French Ambassador Gives Inside Account of Paris Climate Deal

France’s Special Representative to the Paris climate change talks last December spoke publicly for the first time on Feb. 8 at Boston University about what it took to orchestrate both the two-week long climate change negotiation session and the agreement that came out of it.

Ambassador Laurence Tubiana was the featured speaker at the event titled “The Paris Climate Deal: An Inside Account of How It Happened,” co-sponsored by the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future and the Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University. Approximately 100 people turned out on a snowy afternoon to hear her talk, which was also webcast live.

French Ambassador Laurence Tubiana

Appointed in May 2014 as France’s special representative in charge of planning for the United Nations’ December 2015 Paris climate change negotiations, Amb. Tubiana said that from the beginning, she and her colleagues were focused on the outcomes of the talks. They wanted to avoid the failures of the past global climate change talks, especially the session that took place in Copenhagen in 2009 that is widely remembered for the last-minute, failed attempt by high level leaders to salvage an agreement.

“Yes, there was lots of preparation required, but much more important is what happens afterward,” she said. “From the beginning, we were thinking ‘what happens immediately after?’”

With that in mind, they developed a multi-pronged strategy aimed at forging an agreement that would be universal, ambitious, and built on a flexible framework that allows for changing national interests and technology developments over time. In contrast to past attempts at agreements that were driven by a top-down process working through a central coordinating body that set targets and timetables, they decided early that this agreement would be a bottom up process, giving countries room to support it without feeling that their national interests would be compromised, using a “pledge and confirm” approach.

The final agreement includes a long-term goal of keeping the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius (with an aspiration of limiting the increase to 1.5° C). More than 190 countries have developed “intended nationally determined commitments” (INDCs) to reduce their contributions of atmospheric-warming activities, and agreed to “take stock” of their pledges every five years.

From left: Pardee School Dean Adil Najam, Amb. Laurence Tubiana, and Pardee Center Director Anthony Janetos

Acknowledging that the current INDCs are not sufficient for reaching the 2 degree goal, Amb. Tubiana said that this framework addresses the extremely difficult challenge of creating a pact that combines global rulemaking and national interests. It allows for the “socialization” among countries of adopting a common commitment toward a global goal, she said.

“We knew that INDCs would never get us to where we need to be – that was clear. But we needed to have a global target as a direction of travel” that countries would agree to move toward, she said.

She also discussed the need to build trust and transparency in the process, and the concerted effort to reverse the distrust that characterized the past negotiation sessions.

“The most important element was the creation of trust. People didn’t trust the process,” in the past, she said. For this round, they developed a “no surprises” policy from the start, making the act of drafting the agreement much more transparent by assigning the drafting process to a small group of planning team members only as opposed to a committee of country representatives as in the past. This time, all countries had the same opportunities for input and review.

She also talked about creating political space though “360 degree diplomacy” that allowed a much wider cast of actors to participate than in the past. Businesses, investors, non-governmental organizations, cities and other sub-national entities, specific categories of country ministers, and civil society were all provided an opportunity to have input through a more inclusive process. Heads of state were invited to come for the first day of the meeting only, and that – combined with their desire to show solidarity with Paris and France after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks – attracted 150 national leaders to show up.

From left: Pardee School Dean Adil Najam, Amb. Laurence Tubiana, and Pardee Center Director Anthony Janetos

After some last-minute drama that ultimately came down to changing a “shall” to a “should” to address a legal distinction between the two words and provide for U.S. support, the text of the agreement was finalized, and on December 13 the successful agreement was announced.

Amb. Tubiana said the message coming out of the climate change deal reached in Paris is that the agreement should be viewed as a turning point in the global movement toward a low-carbon economy, and not the ultimate solution. Attention should be paid to the changes in the process that made this agreement happen.

“How do we learn from this and make it work effectively? That’s the question of the future,” she said.

Amb. Tubiana was introduced by Prof. Henik Selin, a Pardee School faculty member who has closely followed and written extensively on the global climate change negotiations. Following her talk, Amb. Tubiana participated in a conversation with Pardee Center Director Anthony Janetos and Pardee School Dean Adil Najam and took questions from the audience.

Photos: Dave Green