COP21: Damian Ryan asks if Paris is keeping on track

Reading time: 5 minutes
3 December 2015

Damian Ryan, International Head of Policy, The Climate Group, writes about the 21st UN climate conference, COP21, in Paris. You can follow our activities at

As COP21 moved into its fourth day, the question of progress has been on the minds of many here in Paris.

Officials have been following a work plan agreed by all Parties at the start of the week based around closed-door sessions focused on specific issues, interspersed by larger meetings when stock-takes of overall progress have occurred. A ‘square-table’ format, where officials sit facing each other, has been used each day to provide a more conducive atmosphere for discussion.

Despite these measures and the exhortation for bold action from global leaders on Monday, negotiators have not moved as far as many observers would have hoped. As reported yesterday, this is not unexpected for the first week of a COP. But given what is at stake, concerns about whether negotiators can deliver something useful for ministers by Saturday are understandable.

Old hands in the process have cautioned against making early judgements about the prospects for next week, noting that negotiations follow a natural rise and fall. And crises are not necessarily a bad thing if they serve to break logjams that otherwise fester.

Officials also know that come Saturday their job will end and therefore are likely to work hard through Friday and the early hours of the weekend.

What everyone does agree will be vital over the remainder of the week is the role of the COP Presidency, personified in Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister and COP President.

Fabius has clearly worked hard on a personal level to make sure that discussions, even when behind closed doors, are as transparent and inclusive as possible. He has been at pains to make clear that he is following a “no surprises” strategy.

The COP president certainly has a tough job as it has become clear that different countries – from both developed and developing country groups – do not necessarily share the French view that the Paris agreement cannot be a “minimalist” deal. Oil producing countries in particular have taken firm lines in a number of issues. The crunch issue of finance will also require the most delicate and patient of diplomacy to resolve.

But despite these challenges, there is still good reason to believe that an ambitious deal remains on the table. A new mode of work, for example, is certain once officials wrap up their work and the French President assumes full control of the process. This should provide openings that have remained closed this week, as talks move to the ministerial level, where the difficult political decisions can finally be tackled.

For the moment, though all eyes and hopes of progress remain on officials.


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