Beth Slaninka

shutterstock_202309894_UN FlagsEarlier this month, the world got one step closer to reaching an international climate agreement. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is working to have a new international climate agreement in place by the end of 2015 to establish a path forward for addressing global climate change post-2020.  To prepare for the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP-21), scheduled for December 2015, delegates recently met in Geneva, Switzerland, to build on elements from the Lima Climate Change Conference last year and to develop the negotiating text that will be used to develop the agreement.

“I am extremely encouraged by the constructive spirit and the speed at which negotiators have worked during the past week,” Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, said in a statement on February 13 at the close of the week-long meeting. “We now have a formal negotiating text, which contains the views and concerns of all countries.”

The 86-page text includes multiple options for almost every clause, ranging from simple differences in phrasing to ways to pursue greenhouse gas emissions mitigation and climate change adaptation. By including the concerns of all nations, Figueres said the text “enjoys the full ownership of all countries” and the “countries are now fully aware of each other’s positions.”

“The co-chairs used this session to get all ideas on the table, successfully building trust and priming the negotiations for success throughout this critical year,” Jennifer Morgan of the World Resources Institute told Inside Climate News. “At this early stage, the palpable positive spirit coming out of Geneva is a much better measure of progress than the current length of the negotiating text.”

The negotiating text developed in Geneva is just one step in a process that will take most of the year. Three additional meetings are scheduled for June, September, and October in Bonn, Germany, to streamline the text and to build consensus.

The UNFCCC also expects upcoming meetings, such as the Major Economies Forum, the Petersburg Climate Dialogue, the African Ministerial Conference of the Environment, and the G7 and G20 meetings to include climate change discussions and “contribute to convergence on the key political choices.”

In the meantime, nations are expected to release their individual plans to reduce emissions post-2020 as agreed to during negotiations in Lima last year. My colleague Brad Sinkaus wrote last year about the United States’ and China’s plans to reduce emissions to help “inject momentum into the global climate negotiations and inspire other countries to join in coming forward with ambitious actions as soon as possible.”

As part of that announcement, the two nations also said they plan to “work closely together over the next year to address major impediments to reaching a successful global climate agreement in Paris.”

It’s too early to tell what “major impediments” may arise as the international climate negotiations move forward. But for the United States, gaining support and cooperation from Congress could be a challenge. In November, the White House pledged $3 billion to a UN Green Climate Fund to help developing nations mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for climate change impacts ahead of the international climate negotiations. Following through on the pledge, the President’s fiscal year 2016 budget proposal called for $500 million for the fund, but members of the Republican-controlled legislature have said they would block any money going to the fund.

There is plenty of work that needs to happen both at home and internationally ahead of the COP-21 in Paris, but the negotiations in Geneva were a positive step forward. As Julie-Anne Richards of the Climate Justice Programme told Reuters, “Everything in Geneva has set us up for success at Paris.”