The Paris Agreement and the technical examination process for pre-2020 climate action
The 2015 Paris Agreement represents a historic turning point in global cooperation on addressing climate change. On 22 April 2016, at a special ceremony in New York, about 90 per cent of the Parties to the Convention signed the Paris Agreement, and on October 5 2016 the Paris Agreement entered into force. This agreement could not be more timely, as 2015 marked the warmest year since records began in 1880. There is a recognition that there is no time to waste and as of 30 September 2016, 162 intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), representing 190 Parties, had been submitted to the secretariat. These INDCs outline the intended national efforts under the Paris Agreement to phase out greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the course of this century, increase the resilience of communities and ecosystems to the damaging impacts of climate change, and equip developing countries with increased capacity and resources to make this transition a reality.1
At the core of this Agreement are collective long-term goals that should be achieved through individual contributions by Parties guided by a mechanism to ensure that the ambition of climate action and support increases over time. The Paris Agreement contains several fundamental long-term goals to guide Parties’ individual and collective action and serve as guidance for the transformation that must occur if we are to achieve a zero-carbon, climate-resilient society. In addition, the Agreement contains transparency requirements to demonstrate that Parties are accountable for the commitments they made under the Agreement, to show that action is taking place and support in the form of finance, capacity- building and technology is provided to enable developing countries to reduce GHG emissions and respond to the impacts of climate change.
In addition to the landmark Paris Agreement, governments also adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and 17 new United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) enshrined therewith to guide the transformation of the world and provide a framework for the next 15 years with the overall aim of ending poverty and advancing social and economic development in a sustainable manner. The SDGs, including SDG 13, which explicitly addresses climate action, promote sustainable energy, food security, water conservation, cities or consumption patterns by linking them with the efforts to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. Importantly, the national climate change efforts presented in the INDCs have been framed in a sustainable development perspective and will need to be implemented following a holistic and integrated approach in the context of the SDGs (World Resources Institute, undated.).
While the agreements reached in 2015 under the United Nations have the potential to set the global community on a markedly different development pathway, there is a significant disparity between the ambition of the Paris Agreement and the current and planned actions to be implemented in the pre-2020 period and beyond. Decision 1/CP.21 (the decision adopting the Paris Agreement) stresses the urgency of accelerating the implementation of the Convention and its Kyoto Protocol and emphasizes that strengthened pre-2020 ambition lays a solid foundation for enhanced post-2020 ambition.
To ensure the highest possible mitigation and adaptation efforts in the pre-2020 period and beyond, decision 1/CP.21 resolves to strengthen the existing processes and to establish new processes to bolster pre-2020 ambition. Thus it calls for enhancing the technical examination process on mitigation (TEP-M) and launches a new technical examination process on adaptation (TEP-A).1 In the time remaining until 2020, the TEP-M will explore those policies, practices and technologies that have the potential to increase mitigation ambition while delivering sustainable development co-benefits, and the TEP-A will identify concrete opportunities for strengthening resilience, reducing vulnerabilities and increasing the understanding and implementation of adaptation actions.
The work on pre-2020 ambition builds upon the Lima–Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), launched in 2014 to mobilize global action towards low-carbon and resilient societies. The LPAA increased the level of support provided to existing initiatives, mobilized new partners and provided a platform for the visibility of actions, commitments and results by all in the lead-up to the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP). Finally, decision 1/CP.21 called for two high-level champions to facilitate, through strengthened high-level engagement in the period 2016–2020, the successful execution of existing efforts and the scaling-up and introduction of new or strengthened voluntary efforts, initiatives and coalitions.
To demonstrate these efforts, the high-level champions envision establishing a reporting process to serve as a common tool for all UNFCCC stakeholders. This process would result in an annual report by the high-level champions commencing at COP23, which would aim to showcase action on the ground and build momentum for a low carbon and resilient future. The annual report will highlight success stories, best practices and promote accountability. In addition, the report would serve as the main input of the high-level champions at each COP and would inform parties of actions being taken by the COP and its subsidiary bodies that could accelerate implementation and magnify impact. As the high-level champions’ role is to be the interface between action on the ground and the UNFCCC negotiation process, and between non-Party stakeholders and Parties, the annual report will not only cover non-Party initiatives but also public policies and Party initiatives being implemented on a voluntary basis. It would therefore promote the rapid implementation of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) as the main vehicle of the Paris Agreement.
Why enhancing pre-2020 climate action is critical
Decision 1/CP.21 recognizes with serious concern the significant gap between the emission level implied by the aggregate effect of Parties’ mitigation pledges and the level consistent with limiting warming to well below 2 ºC or 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels. It underlines the urgency of action by all Parties and non-Party stakeholders and urges developed country Parties to scale up the ambition of their climate action and financial support provided to developing countries by setting a concrete road map to achieve the goal of jointly providing USD 100 billion annually by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation.
According to the decision, the emission levels resulting from the aggregate effect of the INDCs are expected to lead in 2030 to an estimated level of 55 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (Gt CO2 eq)2, in contrast to 42 Gt CO2 eq , the level consistent with least-cost 2 °C scenarios (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2013). A recent report suggests that on average the emission levels are expected to be 16.1 Gt CO2 higher in 2025 and 22.6 Gt CO2 eq higher in 2030 than those levels , which would be consistent with scenarios limiting warming to 1.5 °C (FCCC/CP/2016/2 ).
The emission levels reflecting the effect of the INDCs fall far short of the scenarios consistent with limiting temperature increase well below 2 °C. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2015), the implementation of unconditional INDCs will have a likely chance of limiting warming to below 3.5 °C. While this is an improvement over previous trends – which would have led to temperature increases of 4–5 °C – it falls woefully short of the goal to limit warming to well below 2 °C and falls even shorter of the aspirational 1.5 °C goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement (Climate Interactive, 2015).
Benefits from early action
Early mitigation action is essential to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, as timely investment in new technologies and deploying the best available technologies and policies could bring benefits such as:
• Preventing locking in carbon-intensive behaviours and technologies, which would not only make
future mitigation more expensive but could constrain our choices to reduce emissions in certain
sectors and areas;
• Preventing overshooting the temperature goal by fostering early action that can deliver critical reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the short term;
• Facilitating learning and development of technologies that are necessary for longer-term emission reductions and enhancing resilience;
• Reducing risks stemming from the dependence for unproven technologies such as negative emissions technologies (e.g. bioenergy combined with carbon dioxide capture and storage);
• Avoiding the need for steep reductions in later years by undertaking early actions (UNEP, 2015).
Early adaptation efforts also yield many benefits, including:
• Reducing the cost of adaptation, enhancing preparedness for future risks and lowering future
losses in lives and livelihoods;
• Strengthening human systems’ and ecosystem’s resilience and ability to withstand heightened variability, extreme events and long-term climate changes;
• Allowing for some adaptation options, which would not be possible in the absence of early mitigation efforts. At higher temperatures, for example, it may not be possible for some species and communities to adapt to climate impacts, and key thresholds in systems may be overreached;
• Avoiding locking in infrastructure and behaviours that lead to higher vulnerability over a long period of time (e.g. the location of a city expansion in a low-lying area);
• Providing an opportunity for delivering greater short-term sustainable development benefits and addressing development priorities.
Irrespective of shortfalls in the ambition of current INDCs and NDCs, enhanced action in the pre-2020 period helps to facilitate the transformation necessary to phase out GHG emissions and strengthen communities’ and ecosystems’ resilience and ability to withstand long-term climate changes in many ways. Such urgent action also helps to reduce the risk of climate change exacerbating poverty problems that still dominate in parts of developing countries and the risks of failing to meet the SDGs.
The good news is that there is significant momentum to build upon: the cost of clean energy technologies is rapidly declining; oil prices have been falling, paving the way for carbon prices and fossil fuel subsidy reform; and the private sector is more aware than ever regarding climate risks. Investments are being made in infrastructure all over the world and the ways in which these investments are made will help to determine whether the carbon intensity of the global economy is declining fast enough to meet the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement (New Climate Economy, 2015). Countries are taking adaptation seriously and mainstreaming climate risks into decision- making processes, and numerous initiatives have been launched in recent years to increase resilience.
Furthermore, as outlined in the 2015 and the 2016 Summary for Policymakers (SPM), the evidence of significant emission reduction potential and resilience opportunities in the pre-2020 period and beyond is growing. Empowered by the Paris Agreement and the imperative to contribute to its long-terms goals, governments are strengthening the institutional frameworks to foster the transition to climate-neutral and resilient development. It is now essential to maintain and enhance the political momentum from the Paris Conference and deepen global cooperation so that the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement are met. To do so, it is essential to mobilize the whole of society by strengthening ongoing initiatives and coalitions and identifying new ones that both help to advance the implementation of current commitments and catalyse additional action that goes above and beyond the current commitments in the lead-up to 2020 and beyond.1Decision 1/CP.21, paragraphs 109 and 124. TEP-M was defined in decisions 1/CP.19 and 1.CP.20
2Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 17