• WP1514 SMD MW TS legal form 2015
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A comprehensive assessment of options for the legal form of the Paris Climate Agreement

Working Papers N°15/2014. Iddri, 2014. 20 p.

Si les Parties à la Convention-cadre des Nations unies pour les changements climatiques se sont accordé pour négocier un nouvel accord climat en 2015, de nombreuses questions restent ouvertes quant à sa nature juridique. L’objectif de cet article est de présenter les différentes options et synergies possibles entre options : sur la forme de l’accord lui-même ; sur la façon « d’ancrer » les contributions des pays en matière de réduction d’émissions dans l’accord ; et sur les questions de transparence, redevabilité et conformité des engagements.

Points clés [en anglais] :


For many years, the issue of the legal form of the new climate agreement has hovered over the international negotiations. Countries have insisted on first discussing substance. Indeed, it is here that the main divergences remain. However, one year out from the Paris climate conference, it is time to open the discussion on the legal form of the final agreement. The issue of legal form is often reduced to the negotiation of a ‘binding’ or ‘non-binding’ agreement. The bindingness of an international environmental agreement however depends on multiple parameters. We propose four parameters to be considered: the form of the core agreement; the ‘anchoring’ of commitments; mechanisms for transparency, accountability and facilitation; and mechanisms for compliance. Parties should assess pros and cons of these options, and the agreement be optimised across all four.


Negotiations appear to be heading towards a hybrid agreement. Some provisions would be contained in a core agreement, and some in implementing documents such as decisions or schedules. This structure can help to balance legal certainty with flexibility. The core agreement should contain a binding provision to implement and regularly update a ‘nationally determined contribution’ (NDC). If these NDCs were to be housed outside the agreement, this could give more flexibility on their content, submission and updating. The core agreement should contain strong provisions on transparency, accountability and facilitation, including independent institutional arrangements (a Transparency Committee). At this stage in global cooperation and given inherent weaknesses in international environmental law, a punitive compliance mechanism seems unfeasible. However, the agreement should contain a compliance mechanism regarding procedural obligations, such as submission and updating of NDCs.