At Paris in 2015, countries agreed to come back to the table with more ambitious climate commitments (known as nationally determined contributions – NDCs) every five years, in order to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5 and build a more resilient and adaptive economy, together with investments compatible with the goals of the Paris Agreement. We are now in the midst of the first of these five-year cycles. Yet, as of the closing of the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly this September, only 13 countries have submitted NDCs and 18 countries have submitted a 2050 long-term strategy.

State of play

While China’s new emissions-reduction goals mean it has joined the EU and vulnerable countries in leading the race for climate action, the world remains off track. According to the Climate Action Tracker, before the China announcement, current policies would limit warming to about 2.9-3.4 degrees C (5.2 – 5.04 degrees F) in 2100. If China were to achieve its goal of carbon neutrality before 2060, this would likely reduce warming by an additional 0.2 to 0.3 degrees C (about 0.4 to 0.5 degrees F). This means that even with China’s large contribution, the world would still be far off from meeting the 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) global temperature increase goal promised in Paris.

Meanwhile the continued onslaught of unprecedented forest fires, floods, melting glaciers, hurricanes and sea-level rise makes the stakes all too clear.

Countries' ability to design economic recovery plans that integrate climate actions will be crucial to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals of limiting global temperature rise and building more sustainable and resilient societies. Political will is paramount, but success also depends on the mechanisms created under the Paris Agreement to catalyze and guide such efforts. The Global Stocktake (GST), established under the Paris Agreement to assess collective progress toward the long-term goals and spur more ambitious action, is one such mechanism. The outcomes of a successful GST can help provide clear, robust and equitable ways to ensure ambitious climate action. It is crucial for the global community to be well equipped for its first cycle, beginning in 2022 and concludes in 2023, to boost ambition and accountability at the pace and level we need. And the preparation must start now, if we want the GST to result in significantly more ambitious climate actions and support by 2025 during the next cycle under Paris.

WRI’s new issue brief “A Vision for a Robust Global Stocktake” is the latest in an analytical series produced by the Independent Global Stocktake (iGST), an observer organization which seeks to provide input for the GST. It discusses the important role that the GST plays in fulfilling the objectives of the Paris Agreement and provides suggestions on how policymakers and observer organizations can ensure its effectiveness.

Why Does the Global Stocktake Matter Now?

Raising ambition is at the heart of the Paris Agreement; without it, we have no chance of preventing the most dangerous climate impacts. In order to sustain the necessary transformation of our economy and society, the GST is mandated to assess where are we in our efforts to: reduce emissions and limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F); adapt to the impacts of climate change; tackle the incurred losses and damage; minimize unintended effects from climate actions; and scale up the means of implementation and support. It will compare  efforts by countries to where we need to be and signal how we can get there.

The GST process has three components:

  1. Information collection and preparation. This is critical to set the tone for the scientific community, non-state actors and  international organizations to produce the analysis and data that will serve as the foundation for the technical discussions.
  2. Technical assessment of the information collected in the first component;
  3. Consideration of outputs from the technical assessment. This will determine how the GST will inform and motivate the revision and enhancement of national climate action, making  it the most politically challenging and consequential phase.

While the core structure of the GST was established at COP24 in Katowice, Poland, the next major U.N. climate meeting, COP26, must strengthen and refine elements of the GST process before its first cycle.  Although COP26 has been postponed from November 2020 until November 2021, the GST’s first cycle must start as scheduled in 2022 and conclude in 2023.

Increasing the GST’s Effectiveness

For the GST to truly drive ambition, hold countries accountable and send the necessary signals to accelerate the transformation toward a decarbonized and resilient world, here are some of our key recommendations:

  • Provide additional guidance on the sources and type of information that will be used to underpin the technical assessment and high-level dialogue.  The paper considers underlying issues on the information needed to facilitate an effective conversation on the Paris Agreement’s three long-term goals on mitigation, adaptation and finance. For instance, it highlights the importance of looking at sectoral activities and addressing methodological gaps and needs (especially on adaptation and finance).  It also addresses how to better assess non-state actors’ action by creating a virtuous ambition and data loop between governments and non-state actors.
  • Organize a clear, step-by-step sequence to assess the information collected. The technical assessment should be structured in three sets of discussions. These would start with the stocktake’s three thematic areas (mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation and support), followed by the implications concerning loss and damage and response measures. The third set of discussions would ultimately be an assessment against the three long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.

  • Ensure equitable and inclusive participation and engagement of both Party and non-Party stakeholders. One way to do this would be to encourage national, regional and multi-stakeholder convenings, as well as GST-related dialogues outside the official GST events, as a way to encourage transparency and secure thematic expertise necessary for adequate coverage of specific themes that are important to countries. Another is to mobilize line ministries beyond the environment ministry and coordinate more effectively with international institutions beyond the UNFCCC, such as the World Bank, the IMF, FAO, WHO, and WMO, among many others.
  • Deliver unequivocal and incentivizing signals that guide countries’ efforts to prepare a subsequent round of more ambitious NDCs during the two years that follows the GST. This includes securing an effective format for the summaries that are generated, a set of recommendations based on best practices and experiences from countries, and decisions by governments and declarations from non-state actors to trigger the technological and behavioral changes needed in all sectors of the economy and by the society at large. Securing high level participation of key stakeholders during the two weeks of the COP in 2023 could also help build momentum.
  • Set up a support process to ensure the contribution and participation of non-Party stakeholders and independent bodies, and benefit from their thematic information and expertise. Observer organizations, including those participating in the iGST, can play a crucial role in overcoming data gaps and synthesizing information that falls outside the scope of the mandated GST input. They can produce relevant data and contribute to building common understanding on substantive issues by organizing regional, national, or thematic GST-related dialogues of their own in addition to participating in the technical dialogue under the GST process.

These recommendations will ultimately help the GST produce outputs that carry political weight, and in turn enhance the legitimacy of the Paris Agreement overall. We need all hands on deck to make it a reality.

Preparing for the GST in the Time of COVID-19

For the Paris Agreement to spur change at the scale and pace required, the GST will need to mobilize compelling data, generate international and domestic pressure, and create decisive political momentum. We must begin preparations for the first GST cycle now, and countries aren’t the only ones with a major role to play.

Recent stimulus packages are among the largest in history, but for truly building back better, economic recovery plans must keep the heart of the Paris Agreement beating by investing in measures that are low-carbon, resilient and inclusive.

While it is not clear how the GST will take COVID-19 recovery plans into account, the stocktake remains an important mechanism that can make sense of the nexus between climate, development and global security since  the GST’s is expected to assess countries’ efforts in the context of sustainable development and on the basis of equity.

For COP26 to be a springboard into the decade of ambition the world needs, it must set up the GST for success through establishing a clear, robust way forward for the first cycle. As leaders are encouraged to shape the future we want and the UN we need, let us  make sure the UNFCCC processes work at their best. To do that, we need to galvanize a wider range of stakeholder to challenge business as usual,  force the alignment of short-term interests with long-term aspirations and scale up action and support at a faster pace.  In doing so, we can make possible what we all want: a healthy, clean, just and prosperous future where future generations can thrive.

To learn more about how policymakers and observer organizations can ensure the Global Stocktake's effectiveness, watch the recording of our recent webinar.