Paris climate conference 2015

Explainer COP21: The role of France

Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, at climate change talks on 1 June 2015, at UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany.
Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister, at climate change talks on 1 June 2015, at UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany. AFP/Patrik Stollarz

France is hosting the COP21 Climate Change conference at the end of 2015. It has several roles and responsibilities. As national chair of the conference, France is considered responsible for its outcome. The diplomatic renown of France is being put to an historical test.


The aim is for a binding agreement which will help countries share the burden in a fair way, both financially and in terms of adaptation, to cap global warming at at least 2°C but preferably at 1.5°C higher than at pre-industrial levels. The role of host is a tricky one. France has to bring about a meeting of minds on this huge matter, but has its own interests to defend which also factor into the European Union's position.

France's foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, says the goal is to achieve a legally binding agreement which is also sustainable, and therefore can be reviewed and amended. He has called on all countries to submit their plans by 30 October in the hopes that this will enable France to find ways of reaching consensus on the essential.

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Fabius has also called for all the richer countries who signed up to financing the Green Climate Fund agreed at Copenhagen in 2009 (to the unofficial tune of some 90 billion euros before 2020) to start putting words into action. The GCF was set up with a view to help less well-off countries adapt to meet climate-change targets common to all.

The French government is organising several pre-COP21 conferences. On 20 July 2015 Fabius chaired a meeting of ministers and senior officials from 46 countries. He told them that they needed to get cracking at a higher level because lower-level negotiators are faced with questions which require political answers which are beyond them.

France has slated another preparatory meeting towards thrashing out the financial points of a draft accord in early September. Compromise is the watchword.

French President François Hollande is also active on the climate-change front. He opened a 300-guest Summit of Climate Conscience on 21 July. It was attended by former UN secretary-general Kofi Anan, Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunnus and former governor of California state and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On the very practical side, as well as dealing with the logistics for the official climate change conference and summit at the end of the COP21 in December, France is responsible for arranging an area for civil society groups. This is where non-governmental organisations will hold debates, events and generally showcase their work and opinions which may be the same or different from those heard in the official COP21 conference. This space will be open to the public, as well as professionals. It will likely be situated near the official conference which is to be held outside of Paris at Le Bourget, one of the city's exhibition and industrial areas.

Setting examples and perhaps spurred on by its task as COP21 host, French parliamentarians in July   shortly before the summer recess   passed a new law to halve the country's energy consumption by 2050. It would also reduce the proportion of nuclear energy used to produce electricity in France by 25 per cent to 50 per cent. France has been one of the world leaders in nuclear-power technology and is the most nuclear-dependent country in the world. Environment Minister Ségolène Royal says the reform would create 100,000 new jobs in the green sector over the next three years.

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