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Four years ago, countries around the world committed to strike a new international climate agreement this December. The Paris climate summit comes in a year where the impacts of climate change are experienced, understood and acknowledged more than ever before. Governments, the public, investors and businesses are increasingly recognizing the economic and social consequences of climate change, from heat waves and stronger storms to forest fires and sea level rise. Meanwhile, adoption of renewable energy is growing rapidly while costs are plummeting, providing evidence that the global shift to a low-carbon economy is only a matter of time.
But questions remain: Can the world form a pact in Paris this December that will accelerate the low-carbon transition at a speed and scale required to avoid the worst climate impacts? How would the different priorities and circumstances among nearly 200 countries be addressed? And just what might this historic agreement look like?
Recognizing that international cooperation remains one of the world’s greatest challenges to addressing climate change, two years ago a group of the world’s top climate experts from 10 leading research institutions and organizations formed a consortium to catalyze dialogue ahead of the Paris climate negotiations. The Agreement for Climate Transformation (ACT 2015) has convened and consulted with hundreds of stakeholders from governments, business and civil society to envision a realistic but ambitious pathway to a successful outcome in Paris.
The consortium’s consensus-led vision would realize the necessity of rapid cuts in global emissions, addressing climate impacts, and providing support to countries as they transition to low-carbon and climate-resilient economies. This one-of-a-kind analysis offers climate negotiators a unique tool to navigate the complex negotiations leading up to and during the climate summit in Paris this December.
Four key themes emerge from these legal suggestions as pivotal ingredients for an ambitious agreement:
Multilateral vs. Nationally Determined Approaches
Climate change action requires global agreement on key actions and solutions, but it’s clear that the 2015 Paris agreement will have strong roots in national decision-making. In order to provide a balance between a wholly nationally driven approach and multilateral rules and norms, the consortium chose to include a specific long-term goal for mitigation and a long-term goal for adaptation. By putting forward a specific long-term goal on emissions reductions, the agreement can send clear signals to the private sector, the public and to government that the low-carbon shift is taking place. In particular, the legal suggestions call for a long-term goal to phase out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero as early as possible in the second half of this century. Additionally, given that devastating climate events often impact the most vulnerable economic, social and geographical regions of the world, the legal suggestions put forward that collective actions of all countries should be aligned to reduce the vulnerability and build resilience of communities facing climate impacts.
Another counter-balancing factor to the gap in multilateral rules and norms was to include a provision to update the commitments regularly through five-year cycles of continuous improvement. This will encourage countries to continuously ratchet up their commitments at regular, short-term (five-year) intervals. The ACT 2015 suggested legal text proposes three cycles of continuous improvement that apply to different policy areas, but are equally important in the agreement: mitigation, adaptation and support.
The legal suggestions strive to create a balance between having clear links between the agreement and nationally determined commitments by creating a legally binding obligation on all countries to inscribe their commitments in a list that would be kept by the UNFCCC Secretariat and made publicly available alongside the agreement.
Universal Participation and Equity
Countries have previously agreed that the Paris agreement would be under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and “applicable to all Parties.” Requiring the agreement to be universal in its application, while also maintaining critical elements of equity, is extremely challenging, particularly because countries are at different stages of development. The consortium recommends that each of the three cycles of continuous improvement apply universally to all countries, but that each cycle would be applied to different countries in different ways. This approach enables countries to put forward their climate commitments and needs based on their own domestic capabilities and circumstances. In addition, the agreement combines nationally based commitments with a process to develop a framework to ensure international commitments are equitable in the future.
Action and Support
The consortium chose to define “support” in the legal suggestions as a package that includes finance, capacity building, and technology development and transfer, all of which should be understood together. Views on these matters are very diverse, and there is a legacy of distrust on all sides. Developing countries note a lack of delivery of support over many years and point to the unbalanced distribution of financial support when it is provided. Developed countries note that levels of support have increased, though perhaps not enough, and also point to the lack of enabling environments and project pipelines in many developing countries to effectively use these resources. Developed countries also highlight that domestic circumstances can make it challenging to contribute more, particularly when it is noted that emerging economies with relatively high GDPs have not been required to contribute finance.
It is abundantly clear that developing countries need clarity about how the agreed goal that developed countries will mobilize $100 billion in climate finance by 2020 will be met before a climate pact can be reached in Paris. In the agreement itself, the support package must provide enough clarity and accountability for developing countries to feel confident that they can meet the mitigation and adaptation measures to which they commit. Developed countries, along with other countries with a relatively high GDP, need to understand the imperative to provide support to developing countries in their efforts to solve and adapt to the climate problem. The support provisions in the suggested legal text therefore include a robust finance cycle aimed at creating a dynamic process linking finance needs with finance mobilization, and the agreement also encourages all countries to adapt their national legal and institutional contexts to enable the shift and scaling-up of climate finance and investment.
Transparency and Implementation
Many stakeholders are deeply interested in understanding what countries are doing and whether or not they are meeting their commitments. The legal suggestions describe a system for the processes of measuring, reporting and verifying countries’ actions (known as MRV). Transparency assists in building trust among countries; it also provides clarity for investors with respect to the direction that countries are pursuing not only for mitigation, but also for adaptation and support. Regarding MRV of mitigation actions and support, some developing countries have indicated that they are still working on implementing the relatively new requirements adopted in Copenhagen and Cancun, and that it is too soon to enhance the framework further or consider additional requirements. Maintaining the status quo, however, is not acceptable to developed countries, which have differing views concerning when common guidelines on MRV and accounting should take effect. The ACT 2015 consortium suggests that the UNFCCC learn from existing systems for the coming five years, but that the Paris agreement should prepare the ground for an MRV and accounting framework in which all countries would aspire, over time, to collect and report the most robust and transparent data possible in a common format after 2020. Further, for developing countries to participate fully in such an enhanced framework, the consortium proposes that, in accordance with varying national circumstances, those countries will require additional financial support, capacity building and technology transfer.
A successful international climate agreement will represent a new form of international cooperation that includes all countries while also recognizing their differences. Getting Specific on the 2015 Climate Change Agreement: Suggestions for the Legal Text offers ideas for negotiators to consider as they forge a new agreement. In the coming weeks and months, these legal suggestions will be a valuable resource to inform discussion and drive consensus leading up to and during the Paris climate talks.