World Resource Institute

The Three Propositions

The ACT 2015 consortium has developed three propositions with alternative scenarios for a climate change agreement, each illustrating different tradeoffs among policy options. Each is consistent with the agreed climate goal of keeping global average temperature rise below 2°C above the pre-industrial level in order to limit the worsening impacts of climate change. The three propositions all have the following common elements:

  • They are all compatible with keeping global temperature rise below 2oC, though they use differing approaches to doing so.
  • Each proposition assumes that countries are putting forward offers for what they are ready to do in the post-2020 time period rather than allocating top-down commitments to countries.
  • They are all legally binding, though we explore different approaches to this aspect of the agreement.
  • They all incorporate elements on adaptation and finance.
  • They all have a minimum (but no less than what we currently have) set of rules for transparency & accountability of emissions.

Although all three propositions are compatible with a 2°C trajectory, the shape of each global emission trajectory will be different because of differences in the design and timing of emission reductions. Each proposition poses different risks of staying below a 2°C temperature increase, and the benefits associated with each scenario will also be different.

The propositions themselves are not meant to speak to or promote any particular proposal for an international climate change agreement. Instead, the propositions are meant to provoke and structure a constructive discussion, to facilitate a better understanding of the alternative options for the potential framework and elements of the agreement, and to identify the interests and perspectives of various stakeholders and countries. Moreover, the elements under each proposition are not necessarily mutually exclusive to that particular proposition. There are numerous combinations and possibilities, and the propositions merely demonstrate examples of possible trade-offs and outcomes of the 2015 agreement.

In the Steady Proposition, countries, key business sectors, and the public understand the risks of climate change and decide to act seriously now. Countries move forward in an ambitious way by committing to targets that put the world on a clear pathway to stay below 2°C. They do so by putting forward strong targets to address the problem of climate change for the 2020-2030 decade. They agree to report on those targets and review them bi-annually as they do now. This provides some transparency around what each country is doing, but there is no way to get a deeper look that allows countries to compare their level of effort. This proposition could include carbon markets and carbon pricing, which can be used both to reduce costs and to support actions in developing countries that reduce emissions and manage the impacts of climate change.

In the Dynamic Proposition, although there is greater awareness of the problem, countries do not, for a range of reasons, agree to enough ambition for the 2020-2030 period. They recognize, however, that greater action must occur and so agree to a regular ‘ambition mechanism’ that would create a process for countries to ratchet up their emissions-reduction commitments over time. There are strong, common transparency and accountability rules for all major economies which allow countries to know in detail what their competitors are doing. Understanding that the impacts will not stop, but rather increase due to the lower level of ambition early on, countries prioritize public funding for adaptation and create a credible mechanism to manage the losses and damages of countries over the longer-term.

In the Pioneer Proposition, countries decide that sending a long-term signal to business, investors and the public is the most advantageous way to tackle the problem. They therefore set a global goal to phase out greenhouse gases to net zero by the middle of the century and to take immediate action to move in that direction. Countries would have more flexibility on how to achieve that target, with the ability to choose policies and plans that work best for them – even joining together into smaller leadership clubs so that those capable of moving further faster are able to do so. In order to track both the shorter term actions and how they align with a longer-term goal, transparency and accounting rules will be designed in a way that accommodates the diversity of the commitments. There is a decision to align major financial flows of international and bilateral institutions with climate objectives, for example phasing out the funding of fossil fuels and phasing in more funding for renewables and efficiency. There is also a decision to put greater weight on finding new ways of cooperating around the issues of technology research and development, towards that net zero goal.

Each of the propositions has its own specific advantages and risks. On the table below you can see a comparison of the propositions in terms of three criteria: the needed conditions for the scenario to be realized, the risk in implementation of the scenarios, and global economic implications.

Steady Dynamic Pioneer
Necessary conditions that the scenario is realized Ambitious commitments in 2015 with clear trajectory for 2030 Strong 2030 targets are agreed in 2015 and implemented thereafter Lower level of ambition in 2015 with short-term targets and a regular ratchet-up mechanism Steep emission reductions after 2030. Transition to low-carbon energy supply after initial increase of fossil fuel share Long-term GHG phase-out goal (e.g. 2050) plus innovation and countries able to move further faster Incentive of innovation is significant enough to drive immediate action
Implementation risks Strong targets are agreed but not implemented Fast emission reduction after 2030 may turn out to be infeasible if the technical potential is not fully available Short-term lock in effect which may be hard to eliminate later Incentives are not sufficient to achieve the required fast and early action
Global economic implications Steady increase of ambition, transition Step change and possible disruptive change, still high costs after 2050 Frontloading of effort, earlier transition, limited additional costs after 2050