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After COP21: 7 Key Tasks to Implement the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 last year reflects the collective vision of 195 countries, but it is only the start. While the Agreement lays out essential goals, the ability to achieve these goals will depend on the rules, guidelines and processes adopted to implement the Agreement —and these will be hammered out in the months and years to come.

The newly created Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), made up of all the Parties that adopted the Agreement last year, will develop most of the new rules and guidelines. The group will meet multiple times a year, starting in May 2016, and will be supported by existing UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies such as the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI).

Some of this work must be completed by the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, which will occur once the Agreement enters into force (see a related blog post on when the Agreement will take effect). There is no certainty as to when this will happen, but it certainly could be well before 2020. Parties will likely need to agree on a new work plan at COP22 in Morocco later this year to ensure that remaining tasks are completed in time.

Below are seven key areas for Parties to focus their attention between now and the first meeting:

1. Provide Guidance for Countries to Increase their Ambition

The Paris Agreement puts in place a critically important process for countries to increase the ambition of their climate plans, or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), every five years in order to achieve the long-term goals of the Agreement.  In 2018, Parties will collectively take stock of countries’ emissions reductions, and then update their NDCs or submit new ones by 2020.  After 2020, a regular “Global Stocktake” will take place every five years starting in 2023 to review all aspects of Agreement implementation, including mitigation, adaptation, finance and support. Parties will then submit new NDCs every five years, informed by these Global Stocktakes.

Determining exactly how this process will take place is vital to the strength of the new Paris regime. 

Much work must be done to decide both on the inputs that will be used to monitor progress toward the Agreement’s goals, and the outputs that will inform Parties’ future actions. Guidelines for the initial stocktake in 2018 are the most pressing task, while those for the later Global Stocktakes must be developed as well.  The APA must also develop further guidance to assist Parties in submitting their future NDCs.

2. Ensure Transparency and Accountability

The Paris Agreement’s backbone is a transparency framework to track how countries are progressing on their commitments. Rules for how this framework will operate are essential for holding Parties accountable and for enhancing understanding among countries.

To do this, the APA must develop common rules, procedures and guidelines to enhance the UNFCCC’s current Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system by 2018. These guidelines are key to improving transparency, reporting and environmental integrity, but they must also provide developing countries with the flexibility needed to reflect their different capabilities and national circumstances.

The APA has also been tasked with developing accounting guidance to track progress towards NDCs, guided by agreed upon principles. This guidance will apply to the next round of NDCs communicated by Parties.

In addition to developing rules to ensure transparency ahead of the first meeting of the Parties, the APA has also been tasked with developing the modalities and procedures for the expert-based committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance established in the Agreement.

3. Track Climate Finance

Effectively and accurately tracking climate finance is a core challenge for the international climate regime to ensure that finance is flowing and meeting its intended objectives. The Paris Agreement tasked the SBSTA to develop by 2018 accounting rules for Parties to follow in order to better track public climate finance and increase transparency. Developed countries also committed to continue reporting every two years on finance they’ve provided and mobilized, and also start reporting on public funding they intend to provide in following years. The Agreement encourages developing countries to also follow this practice. The APA is tasked with determining the specific information these countries should report, when it will be due, and how it will be reviewed.

4. Create an Adaptation Cycle of Ambition

The Paris Agreement finally puts adaptation on par with mitigation and recognizes loss and damage as a distinct concept within the international climate regime. The Adaptation Committee must now develop a process for recognizing developing nations’ adaptation efforts and methodologies for assessing adaptation needs, work that could be critical in supporting countries in developing their periodic adaptation communications in ways that allow for a clearer and more uniform synthesis to inform the Global Stocktake.

5. Design the First Dedicated Committee for Capacity Building

Many developing countries still lack the necessary finance, skills and knowledge to undertake climate mitigation and adaptation actions. So the Agreement called for a designated body for capacity building, known as the Paris Committee on Capacity Building (PCCB), to ensure that all countries can meet their commitments. The PCCB will oversee a four-year work plan, starting this year, to address gaps and needs, and ensure coordination of efforts in capacity-building activities in developing countries. The SBI will develop the terms of reference for the PCCB this year, with the expectation that Parties will formally adopt them at COP22.  

6. Decide How Countries Can Achieve their Mitigation Targets Cooperatively

The Agreement allows Parties to pursue their mitigation outcomes cooperatively, potentially utilizing both market means—such as emissions-trading schemes—and non-market means, like policies or financial assistance. These cooperative approaches will be undertaken through a new mechanism, the purpose of which is to incentivize mitigation while fostering sustainable development, and guided by a new framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development.  How the mechanism will operate, and what the framework is, must now be determined by the SBSTA ahead of the first meeting of the Parties. 

7. Create a New Technology Framework

The Paris Agreement provides a long-term vision for developing new technologies and enabling the transfer of these technologies from the developed to the developing world in order to help nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.  Ahead of the first meeting of the Parties, the SBSTA must lay out the details of a framework to support this goal.

Although the exact timing of the first meeting of the Parties is not yet known, it’s clear that there’s a lot of work to do between now and then. Parties should begin this work at the first meeting of the APA in May this year, and agree on a robust work plan with clear sequencing for putting the key elements in place. The quality of the rules and procedures developed in the coming years will ultimately determine the success of the Paris Agreement.

EDITOR'S NOTE, 3/10/15: A previous version of this blog post incorrectly stated that the SBSTA is responsible for determining the specific finance information that countries must report. It is actually the APA. The post has been corrected, and we regret the error.

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