COP21 Week 1 Data Analytics from the #DataGeeks at

COP21 Week 1 Data Analytics from the #DataGeeks at

The opening of the UNFCCC COP21 conference saw 150 world leaders gather together in an act of global solidarity like no other. According to the UN, never before have so many Heads of State come together for a common purpose under one roof. Many leaders gave speeches that day, but none moved me more than the words of President Obama. In his opening speech at COP21, he said:

“For all the challenges we face, the growing threat of climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other…..That future is one that we have the power to change.  Right here.  Right now.  But only if we rise to this moment.  As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

With his words echoing in my ears, my team at set out to do just that. We were about to take part in a moment which represents a historic shift away from the bifurcated world of the Annex I and Annex II Parties of the Kyoto Protocol, towards global solidarity. Before, only wealthy nations were required to reduce their emissions. The groundbreaking Paris Agreement places us all in the same life raft together (through differentiation), whereby both developed and developing nations alike are required to reduce emissions.

The Paris Agreement is a multilateral pledge made by 196 nations (or Parties) under the auspices of the UNFCCC, which in the words of Time Magazine is, “the world’s most significant agreement to address climate change since the issue first emerged as a major political priority decades ago.” The agreement seeks to hold global temperature rise due to climate change to “well below”  2C, while noting the importance of “pursuing efforts” to limit warming to 1.5C. Additionally, the agreement builds global ambition over time in five-year increments, which some hope will send a strong message to global investors and markets for green tech and energy investment. You can read the UNFCCC text here. is a group of researchers and policy wonks that endeavored to provide objective data analysis on the UNFCCC text, as it emerged, to journalists, negotiators, delegates and the broader public. Our hope was to highlight, through the use of objective data analysis, the areas of disagreement that still remained in the complex, quickly evolving text as the negotiations unfolded. Negotiators had 12 days to make Obama’s words ring true.

Here is the breakdown on the text going into the negotiations:

Pre-COP21 Paris Agreement and Decision text by the numbers (pulling from the November 10th Draft):
34,678 total words.
1,059 paragraphs.
1,622 [Brackets] signifying lines of contended text
228 Options in the text — (these also signify areas of contended text)

Leaders had 12 days to coordinate 196 Parties in negotiating all [Brackets] and Options down to zero, if we were to have the first universal framework for coordinated action on climate change. According to our team leader at COP21, John-O Niles lecturer at UCSD, as quoted in the Santa Barbara Independent, this is, “akin to ‘trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube as fast as possible with 190-plus other sets of hands on the same cube.'”

Can data analytics help avert climate change?! Well, the IPCC would certainly think so. The press seemed to like our metrics as least. Impact on negotiators is harder to measure. We’d just have to give it our best shot.

There are two important things to know about the Paris Agreement text. It’s split up into two sections, the Agreement and the Decisions. The Agreement is like a stone that is solid, hard to move, and will be around for a long time (think Kyoto Protocol). The Decisions are more malleable, like amendments to a constitution in a way. Regarding this distinction, the Atlantic wrote:

So here’s something counter-intuitive. The text commonly called the “Paris Agreement” is actually two different documents: the agreement itself, which is legally binding, and the Paris decision, which passes the agreement and sets out a number of less legally binding ways to approach and observe it.

Our team at focused mainly on the Agreement text, but our analysis looked at both the Agreement and the Decisions (or what The Atlantic refers to as the ‘Paris decision’).

The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was established in 2011, and was charged with developing a new protocol no later than 2015. It is the group that revised the text during the first week of negotiations at COP21. The first revision of the text came out of the ADP meetings on Dec 3rd and actually saw an increase in Brackets, but a 59% decrease in Options:

Progress ADP Brackets Nov 10 to Dec 4 Progress ADP options Nov 10 to Dec 4

Quoting from our team’s Press release regarding the Dec 3 draft text:

Analysis of this morning’s (December 3, 2015, 8am) new draft Paris Agreement reveals mixed signals. Disputed Brackets have increased in number since Monday’s energetic kickoff, from 1,617 to 1,718. Even at this late stage, rather than reduce disagreements, negotiators are raising new specific issues of contention. This would seemingly suggest that negotiations are moving backwards.

There are, however, several reasons for optimism. First, it is typical during two-week talks to see initial jockeying in the first few days lead to more Brackets. Second, the size of the entire package has been reduced from 54 to 50 pages. The number of words has been shaved down by 8%. Also, in terms of larger blocks of discord (“Options”), today’s text had only 205, down from 228 at the outset. Certain critical sections have also seen dramatic improvements, including the implementing body for the new Paris Agreement (no Brackets), and the transparency system/framework, to clarify overall implementation.

And while numbers are one important metric, two other key ingredients for success are the level of organization and overall mood. Conference organizers, led by the host nation of France, have been widely praised by diplomats at COP21 as highly organized and disciplined.

Dec 4th saw the introduction of a Bridging text, which was an attempt by the Co-chairs to incorporate the views and concerns of all Parties stated up until that point. This draft of the text saw a drastic reduction in the number of Brackets and Options. Negotiators stayed at Le Bourget into the wee hours of the morning pouring over the new text. The following day, Dec 5th, the Co-Chairs again introduced new text to incorporate views expressed during the late night ADP sessions. Both the Dec 4th and Dec 5th draft texts were agreed to swiftly by Parties, which displayed a great trust in the leadership of the French Presidency running COP21 – more so than had been seen before during previous COPs, where such an exercise could take hours or days just discussing procedural processes. The Dec 4 Bridging text and Dec 5 Co-chair text presented possible solutions to a tight negotiating timeline. It appeared Parties agreed.

Here are our Data Analytics on the number of Brackets and Options in the Agreement portion of the text up through the Dec 5th version (this information, plus all of our data, is publicly available at



Our analytics on the Decisions portion of the text up through Dec 5th:

dec 5 Decision Bracket Chart

Note that text out of Brackets did not have a guaranteed place in the final agreement. In other words, it’s not over until it’s over. And there is more to this text than just the number of Brackets. [But the number in aggregate is a powerful metric of momentum towards universal consensus for moving forward in the fight against climate change.]

After the first week of the UNFCCC meetings, and many sleepless nights for negotiators, there were 9,363 less words in the Dec 5th version of the draft text (down from 34,678 in Nov 10 draft), Finance lost 60 Brackets, but gained 12 options, and there were still still 193 Brackets for negotiators to solve in Mitigation. As the ADP passed the text off to Government Ministers, who would take over negotiating during the second week, there were many issues still to solve. However, #momentum had been made, [Brackets] had dwindled, words had been slashed, and multilateralism had prevailed through the first week of COP21.

The following table provides details regarding the percent change on more metrics during the Week 1 text revisions (for a similar table on the Decision text, visit


In the closing remarks of his speech at the UNFCCC, President Obama said:

“Accepting this challenge will not reward us with moments of victory that are clear or quick.  Our progress will be measured differently — in the suffering that is averted, and a planet that’s preserved.  And that’s what’s always made this so hard.  Our generation may not even live to see the full realization of what we do here.  But the knowledge that the next generation will be better off for what we do here — can we imagine a more worthy reward than that?  Passing that on to our children and our grandchildren, so that when they look back and they see what we did here in Paris, they can take pride in our achievement.

Let that be the common purpose here in Paris.  A world that is worthy of our children.  A world that is marked not by conflict, but by cooperation; and not by human suffering, but by human progress.  A world that’s safer, and more prosperous, and more secure, and more free than the one that we inherited. ”  

And that my friends, made all the data analysis, all the sleepless nights worth it — to have a shot, even a tiny shot at helping secure that future. 

The final Paris Agreement, a universal framework for coordinated action on climate change, has zero Options and zero Brackets.

Stay tuned for my second blog post about the COP21 Week 2 data analytics on how it all transpired, and how the final historic Paris Agreement emerged.

Or Follow our COP21 Reporting and Data Analytics on the UNFCCC Text at: | | Twitter: @parisagreement

A taste of the press coverage of the analytics


Written by Catherine Martini

Assistant Team Manager,

Coordinator of Global Communications & Research, Tropical Forest Group

Masters of Environmental Management Candidate, Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies