What if an international climate change agreement could set the rules for years to come, driving greater emissions reductions, more renewable energy and energy efficiency and a shift away from fossil fuel? An agreement you could depend on because you know both the long-term goal and how countries are going to work together to achieve it?
Such an agreement is in the works, but key decisions need to be taken in the coming months to make it a reality by December 2015, when countries are scheduled to meet in Paris to finalize negotiations for a global climate deal under the UNFCCC framework.
A consortium of research organizations from around the world, called ACT 2015, has been thinking hard about what structure, processes and rules would need to be put in place to create confidence and predictability of action under this agreement. There are five key ingredients:
1. Set a long-term goal that people, investors, businesses, cities and national policy makers understand
Currently countries are aiming to keep global average temperature from rising 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above pre-industrial levels. This 2 degrees C target is an important threshold; if the planet gets much hotter than this, the impacts of a changing climate become unbearable for many people and creatures. However, it is not the easiest target to translate into day-to-day practice and decision-making. If the agreement includes a complementary goal of phasing out greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2050 it would send a much clearer signal on the downward direction of travel of emissions.
2. Commit to strengthening national commitments to reduce emissions, or shift to a clean economy, until that long-term goal is met.
No roll-backs, no weakening, keep moving towards phasing out emissions. Countries could make their emissions-reduction targets and their actions stronger at any time.
3. Make it clear that at least every five years, countries will strengthen their commitments to cut climate-warming emissions.
Longer than five years moves away from real time for business, politicians and the public.
4. Bring in independent facts.
While countries should outline what they can do, based it on analysis, it is always best to get a second or third opinion. Welcoming and encouraging independent experts to provide ideas on how countries can reduce emissions and information on how far away the efforts are from phasing out GHG emissions, ensures that the debate is open, transparent and dynamic.
5. Assess progress and go back at it again.
We all know how important it is to assess how we are doing on our own goals and to change course if need be. This applies to countries too. The new climate agreement should have a straightforward assessment of how countries are doing and a clear process to support those countries that are going off track.
If the agreement could include these five essential features, it would go far to creating confidence that leaders are engaged and that they are going to come back to the table at least every five years to keep strengthening actions until emissions are phased out. Negotiations on the agreement in Bonn from October 20-24, 2014, offer a good opportunity for such a straightforward approach to emerge.