The issue of climate change really entered into the international political agenda in the early 1990s. In 1988, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization, at the request of the G7 (the group of the 7 most industrialised countries). IPCC's mandate is to provide neutral and independent detailed assessments of the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change and to present and analyse its causes, potential impacts and strategies to address it. Since 1992 (see below), the IPCC is committed to provide the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC, see below) with independent, "rigorous and balanced" scientific information, in order to inform global policy makers. A first assessment report was published in 1990, followed by four others, the last of which was published in 2013-2014.

The UNFCCC was created in 1992 at the Third Earth Summit in Rio, and entered into force in 1994. It is the main framework for international cooperation in the fight against climate change. Every year since 1995, the Parties (Signatories States to the Convention, as well as the European Union, which acts as a Contracting Party on behalf of its member States) meet annually at the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) and during intermediary sessions, in order to "negotiate" the policies to implement.

Two major agreements have emerged from this process:
  • The Kyoto Protocol, adopted at COP3 in Kyoto in 1997 and which entered into force in 2005, after its ratification by Russia. This Protocol aimed to bind industrialized countries (i.e. the 40 countries listed in the UNFCCC’s Annex 1 Parties) to reduce their GHG emissions, with a first commitment period extending from 2008 to 2012. Carbon markets are a direct result of this protocol, and a new agreement was then expected for the second period 2013 to 2020.
  • The Paris Agreement, adopted during COP21 in Paris and which entered into force less than a year later, the 4th of November 2016. It provides a framework for the post-2020 international climate regime..
  • The Paris Agreement represents a major step forward in the international climate Agenda. Looking back at 2009, the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) held in Copenhagen, Denmark, had marked the failure of negotiations over the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020).

    At COP17 in 2011 in Durban, South Africa, the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) is established, with the aim of launching a " process to develop a protocol, another legal instrument Or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties" 1, to be adopted in 2015 for entry into force in 2020. The ADP work programme was then adopted at COP18 in Doha in 2012.

    During COP19 in Warsaw, Poland, in 2013, the Parties agreed that their participation in the new agreement should take the form of commitments self-determined by each country, taking into account national realities. The great novelty of the process was that, from this moment on, all Parties should commit themselves without distinction. On the other hand, the initial spirit of the UNFCCC’s principle of "shared but differentiated responsibility" is still present, and the level of commitments is clearly conditioned by historical responsibilities on GHG emissions and the development needs of non-industrialized countries. These commitments must be documented in a framework document, called the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which was to be submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat in 2015 ahead of COP21. Of the 196 Parties to the UNFCCC at the time, 187 had submitted their INDC by the 22nd of December 2015, representing more than 97% of the world's population and more than 94% of total GHG emissions.

    An integrated approach to climate action

    The Paris Agreement and Decision 1/CP.21 that operationalizes it laid the foundations for a new global organization in the fight against climate change through the establishment of:
    • a transparent ambition that engages all Parties through the INDCs;
    • an inclusive approach of adaptation and mitigation, with the objective of keeping the average increase in temperatures well below 2°C by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels and pursuing the efforts to limit it to 1.5°C;
    • the mobilization of adequate and additional financial resources, in addition to transfer of technology and capacity building actions. It should be noted that, since Copenhagen in 2009, industrialized countries have committed to mobilize, starting in 2020, USD100 billion per year to finance projects related to the fight against climate change in developing countries. This amount now constitutes a minimum threshold and, by 2025, a new and more ambitious target will have to be set (note that this amount, which could appear significant, is very much lower than the financing needs of developing countries, which are the most vulnerable the effects of climate change despite having contributed little to global emissions);
    • an enhanced and sustainable involvement of all stakeholders, in particular non-state actors (local authorities, civil society, universities, etc.).

    The overall process is supported by mechanisms and tools, including a global framework for measuring, reporting and verifying actions (MRV). This enhanced transparency should enable the assessment of commitments and efforts of all Parties in the implementation of the Paris Agreement.

    The Paris Agreement also reaffirms the priority of development when putting in place the necessary measures to mitigate climate change, in particular through two specific points: universal access to energy, particularly in Africa, through the deployment of renewable energies; and food security, which is recognized as a "fundamental priority". Article 2 of the Paris Agreement also provides that the implementation of the Agreement shall be pursued in the context of sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

    Following directly the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, COP22 organised in November 2016 in Marrakesh, Morocco, was set to be the "COP of action". Two declarations were then adopted: the "Marrakech Action Proclamation for Our Climate and Sustainable Development" and the "Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action", which involves the civil society in the implementation process. COP23, under the Fijian presidency but held in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017, was seen as a COP of transition towards COP24, held in December 2018 in Katowice, Poland. The latter enabled the adoption of some operating rules of the Paris Agreement. However, many questions remain outstanding, mainly regarding the lack of ambition in mitigation but also on other key components such as adaptation, losses and damages, transparency issues, financing, capacity building and cooperation mechanisms.

    While the progresses brought by the Paris Agreement are significant, a number of major challenges thus remain. It should be recalled that the overall level of ambition is defined by the addition of all commitments contained in the INDCS. It should also be noted that these have become, since the entry into force of the Agreement, and for Parties that have ratified it, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). In other words, these are no longer Intended contributions but concrete objectives to which countries have committed. Everyone will understand that the question of monitoring and compliance with implementation is as important as the need to increase collective ambition.

    All scientific studies unanimously agree that there is a significant gap between the INDC/NDC and the objectives set out in the Paris Agreement. The United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report pointed out that by 2030, only one-third of the GHG emission reductions needed to achieve the 2°C target were covered (assuming that all commitments were met). In parallel, GHG emissions continue to increase in many countries and the annual emissions surplus could reach 11 to 14 GtCO2e by 2025 compared to a 2°C warming scenario, 14 to 17GtCO2e for a 1.5°C scenario according to Climate Action Tracker (figure below). By 2100, a temperature increase of at least 3°C could occur in the absence of enhanced action . 2

    Beyond this lack of ambition, the lack of binding mechanisms and of concrete measures regarding the means of implementation that will be made available to developing countries, along with the unpredictability of financing, are also among the main question marks surrounding the post-2020 international climate regime.