The Paris Agreement has been almost unanimously praised as a great achievement and a landmark in international climate policy. However, many issues still remain to be solved. A new body, the APA (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement) was created during the COP 21 to prepare the implementation of the Paris Agreement. In fact, even though the agreement sets the concrete objective of limiting the rise in global average temperature to “well below 2 °C” above pre-industrial levels and to “pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C”, its core legal obligations remain almost exclusively procedural. The achievement of this goal will therefore depend on the ambition level of each country’s pledges, which are to be determined by each country individually, through the submission of so-called NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) that they have agreed to submit every 5 years starting from 2020. This raises the question of whether and how the legal and political framework created at COP 21 will succeed in closing the emission gap, i.e. the difference between the current pledges for the reduction of emissions and what will have to be achieved in order to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 °C.
In the run-up to COP 21, countries were invited to submit their initial pledges for emission reductions, called INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). Various organisations have attempted to estimate what the sum of current INDCs amounts to in terms of limiting the rise in global temperature. This task is not an easy one, considering that countries have communicated their targets based on different standards and metrics. One major difference lies in the choice to include a base-line year up against which each country measures its projected emission reductions and, if they do include it, which one. INDCs also contain different assumptions and methods of calculations that make results difficult to compare. For example, they vary in their GHG coverage and in the inclusion of emission reductions from carbon sinks such as forests or soil in their calculations. Just to make things even more complicated, the projected emission gaps estimated by different organisations based on current INDCs also differ from each other. They are themselves based on different assumptions such as how efforts to reduce emissions will evolve after the target date for the INDCs, most often set at 2030, is reached. The World Resource Institute has conducted an interesting analysis of the different NDC-based temperature projections.
Even though predictions differ depending on model assumptions, one conclusion is widely shared: current pledges are insufficient to achieve the objectives stated in the Paris Agreement. All hopes are thus directed at the effectiveness of the ratchet mechanism that it has established. It consists in the review and update of current countries’ pledges (INDCs) starting from 2020, a process that is hoped to encourage countries to increase their ambitions over time. Countries will then have to submit new NDCs every 5 years that represent a progression beyond their current NDC. So-called “global stocktakes” will take place in between each round of NDCs submission to assess the overall progress towards reaching the objectives of the Agreement and with a view to inform the formulation of the new NDCs. Even though this system will only officially kick in starting from 2023, a “facilitative dialogue”, whose modalities are yet to be defined, will already take place in 2018. All these measures taken together represent the package of legal procedures that is expected to increase the ambition of countries’ emission targets and bring us on a path to a “well below 2 °C” scenario.
However, how the NDC system and the global stocktake will concretely work in the future is not yet clear. The APA has been tasked with defining the modalities for these mechanisms. The first meeting of the APA was held on the 17th of May during the negotiation session that is taking place this week in Bonn, Germany. The meeting was shorter than expected as, once each country or coalition had been given the floor for their opening statements, the session was suspended before the adoption of the agenda. One of the topics that is creating some difficulties and has lead negotiations to a stall is that developing countries want to make sure that the agenda is not limited to mitigation measures, but that attention is also given to adaptation, loss and damage and other topics that they find equally relevant. Given the central importance of the APA for preparing the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, it is not surprising that it is facing some challenges in the initial phases of its work. The hope is that negotiators will manage to keep the positive spirit of collaboration that characterised COP 21 and avoid negotiation deadlocks.
On Friday morning, the item “APA plenary” finally reappeared on the meetings schedule scrolling through the CCTV screens at the World Conference Centre in Bonn and, in the afternoon, countries finally managed to reach consensus on the agenda. Now that they have decided what they will be discussing in the framework of the APA, they can proceed to debating how they will organise their work. It might therefore take some time before countries will move on to discussing substantive issues pertaining to the implementation of the Paris Agreement itself. The current situation in Bonn thus suggests that things are still moving forward, even though at the usual slow and laborious pace typical of UNFCCC negotiations.
About the Author: Laura Skøt is currently a student in International Affairs at Sciences Po Paris, focusing on international environmental policy. She developed a strong interest in UNFCCC negotiations during her experience organising a student simulation of the COP 21 last year, in the framework of the Make it Work project. She joined CliMates recently and is currently working on the Innov’City project.