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Domestic Ambition: A Key Ingredient to Tackling Climate Change

In the UNFCCC international climate negotiations, “ambition” refers to countries’ collective will to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions enough to keep global average temperature increase below 2°C. While most countries have made international pledges to limit GHG emissions, these pledges are not “ambitious” enough to add up to the GHG cuts needed to meet the 2°C temperature goal. That’s why many groups are calling on parties in Doha to step up their commitments. Equally important, though, is ensuring that countries are effective in implementing domestic policies that meet – or exceed – the international commitments they have made already.

What Makes for an Effective Domestic Climate Policy?

The “implementation deficit” – a difference between the expected and actual amount of emissions reductions of an enacted policy—stems from a lack of complete implementation of a climate policy. This kind of “deficit” is well documented in a number of policy sectors, with significant implications for the countries’ abilities to meet GHG-reduction targets. Conversely, when climate policies are effectively implemented, they demonstrate that mitigation actions can work, in turn encouraging other countries to adopt similar policies and actions.

The effectiveness of any policy depends on several key factors, including: * Choosing the right policy to address the problem, taking into account local context;

  • Designing the policy to be cost-effective, and taking into account its impacts on different stakeholders;

  • Strengthening and funding the institutions – like line ministries, state regulators, or enforcement agencies – charged with implementing the policy;

  • Supporting critical functions of policy administration, monitoring and review, and compliance and enforcement; and

  • Addressing resource constraints, institutional capacity needs, coordination between related policies and institutions, and stakeholder engagement in the policy process.

The Value of Transparency

While effective policy implementation is important, it’s also crucial to monitor and share this information. Several countries have made their international pledges contingent on ambitious action from other countries, suggesting that they are waiting to see others move before committing themselves. Clear, accurate, and reliable information on ambitious and effectively implemented domestic actions can thus provide invaluable input into the international climate negotiations. Sharing information on domestic policies’ emissions impacts, renewable energy industry development, best practices for implementation, and the challenges faced in implementing policies can help countries meet existing pledges and enhance future pledges.

WRI’s Open Climate Network (OCN) is working to provide transparent information on domestic actions and their effectiveness. The Network is publishing a series of working papers that provide an overview of climate policy in the European Union, United States, United Kingdom, China, India, Brazil, and Australia, laying the foundation for more in-depth analysis of policy implementation in these countries, which OCN will conduct in 2013.

These papers show that several countries are enacting major new policies to reduce emissions. Australia’s Clean Energy Act 2011 puts a price on carbon and kick-starts the transition to a clean energy future. India is pursuing a National Solar Mission and National Mission for Enhanced Energy Efficiency. The EU recently passed an Energy Efficiency Directive, and the United States is enacting tightened vehicle emissions standards. These are important steps toward reducing emissions. As a result of these policies, some countries are positioned to achieve and even exceed their current international GHG commitments, suggesting that there is room to increase the ambition of their international pledges.

More Work Is Needed

However, these actions alone are not sufficient to meet the ambition required to limit global temperature rise to 2°C, and there is still much work to be done. The United States, for example, still needs to do more to achieve its existing pledge, in addition to increasing its pledge to meet the scale of emissions reductions needed. In the EU, the Energy Efficiency Directive still may not be sufficient to reach the EU’s 2020 energy efficiency target.

There are also barriers that countries will need to overcome to ensure that policies deliver results. In Australia, political dynamics could threaten to roll back new emissions-reduction policies. In India and Brazil, policy implementation could suffer from capacity gaps and a lack of coordination among implementing institutions. It’s important to consider such issues in addition to tracking the magnitude of pledges and enactment of relevant policies, as they could have significant implications for global emissions.

By monitoring and analyzing individual countries’ implementation of climate change policies, the policy community can learn what works (and what doesn’t) and identify places where more action is needed. We can also provide transparency on domestic action, which can encourage other countries to enact their own ambitious climate change mitigation plans. By focusing on the local, we can help foster greater global action on climate change.

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