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An Idea Whose Time Has Come

“Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.” These are the words of Victor Hugo, iterated by Claudia Salerno, the head of Venezuela’s delegation, during one of the final sessions of the Geneva climate negotiations on February 13, 2015. In her statement, the Venezuelan delegate indicated that she was herself surprised that she was agreeing with proposals provided by the European Union and the “Umbrella Group” of countries (which includes Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan and others). As parties discussed the way forward, many referenced a “Geneva Spirit:” a sense that everyone was moving forward together toward a common goal.

The cause for this enthusiasm was the development of the so-called “Geneva text.” Starting from the “elements for a draft negotiating text” annex to the “Lima Call for Action,” agreed to last December, this text was created through parties’ additions over the first two and a half days of the negotiations, with progress happening so fast that co-chairs adjourned a few sessions early.

Don’t break out the champagne just yet. There is a key reason everyone was happy with the text: it has everything in it. Coming in at over 90 pages, this text is packed with a variety of options for every paragraph. From this you could craft a wide range of agreements, for example: with or without markets; with 2025 or 2030 end date for commitments; where developing and developed country parties are not divided into specific categories or are divided into two categories based on the 1992 convention or on evolving criteria; with or without global goals for mitigation and adaptation; and with various schemes which speak to the provision of finance, as well as its distribution and use. Getting to a final agreement will require a lot of work.

Bonn, in June 2015, where the hard process of negotiating down the text toward a final agreement will begin, will look much different than Geneva in February. For one, all countries in a position to do so are expected to provide their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) by March 31, 2015. The United States European Union, Mexico, Chile, and others will likely meet this deadline. Additional countries will make every effort to put out their contributions prior to the June meeting. As a result, parties will engage in a process of negotiation informed by the concrete contributions that countries are willing to make to achieve the global goals of preventing dangerous climate change and adapting to effects of unavoidable warming.

Many countries have already begun major efforts on their INDCs. Switzerland’s INDC has already been published on the UNFCCC website. Chile’s expected contribution has already been made public for comment. Developing countries like Colombia, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and others are building on sectoral efforts in Low Carbon Development Strategies, which identify emissions trajectories and opportunities for mitigation. Financial and other support for these efforts have been flowing from Developed Countries like Germany and France, and from International Organizations such as the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the World Bank. In addition to action on mitigation, countries are planning ambitious undertakings in adaptation and finance, demonstrating their commitment to assisting the global effort to combat climate change, and building trust within the negotiation context.

The next several months will be critical in getting to a global agreement on dealing with climate change. The contributions that countries produce have the potential to demonstrate broad-based commitment towards meaningful progress on climate change. Such promises can build momentum within the international negotiations, signaling that a universal, durable agreement on climate change is an idea whose time has indeed come.


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