Countries have been developing domestic policies and legislation on climate change since 1992 when the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was first adopted. The Convention now has 197 Parties covering just about every country in the world. It provides the main framework for global cooperation on climate action, and requires its Parties to achieve “stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system” (Article 2).
Every year the Conference of the UNFCCC Parties (COP) meets to decide additional climate action. In 1997, the COP adopted a legally binding agreement called the Kyoto Protocol, which specified mandatory GHG emissions limits for developed country parties for 2008-2012, and through the 2012 Doha Amendment for 2012-2020. The Protocol has 192 Parties. It has been successful in catalysing legislation and global carbon markets (especially in the EU), has generated adaptation funding for developing countries and has launched thousands of clean development projects in developing countries. But the USA is not a party to the Kyoto Protocol and this has limited its effectiveness.
In 2011 at Durban, the Parties to the COP agreed to launch negotiations on a new global agreement that would encompass all Parties. These negotiations were undertaken by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), which is a subsidiary body of the COP. The mandate of the ADP was to develop: “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at [COP21] and for it to come into effect and be implemented from 2020”.
In addition, by the same decision, the COP launched a work plan on enhancing mitigation ambition pre-2020 to identify and to explore options for a range of actions that can close the ambition gap with a view to ensuring the highest possible mitigation efforts by all Parties. In order to develop the next Agreement, many countries’ leaders and non-state actors (like cities and businesses) considered that a key part of a successful and ambitious future agreement would be a ‘long-term goal’ to operationalise and expand on how to achieve the globally agreed temperature limits.
On Saturday the 12th of December 2015, an historic agreement was gavelled through at the Conference of the Parties 21st meeting in Paris. The text of the Paris Agreement, which you can find here, was approved for adoption by 196 Parties to the Convention and sets out how Parties will support mitigation actions, increase adaptation capacity and fund the transition to zero that the Agreement enshrines. On April 22nd 2016, 175 Parties signed the Paris Agreement – an unprecedented number of States in the history of international agreements. Track 0 played a key role in the Paris negotiations by supporting the High Ambition Coalition countries and specifically focussing on the inclusion of:
- A global long-term goal and global temperature limit of well below 2ºC/1.5ºC
- National commitments (NDCs) and strategies for decarbonisation and sustainable development in line with 2ºC/1.5ºC
The Long-Term Temperature and Emissions Goals
The Objective in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement now commits Parties to limit global temperature rise above preindustrial levels to “to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5ºC above pre-industrial levels”.
The inclusion of the 1.5ºC target into the Agreement is both revolutionary and necessary in order to acknowledge the existential threat the most vulnerable countries – small island states and the least developed countries – face due to current and predicted climate change impacts. This temperature limit is then operationalized in Article 4.1 through the ‘long-term emissions reduction goal’:
“Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (Article 4.1 of the Paris Agreement).
The long-term emissions reduction goal the Agreement expresses can be summarised as aiming for ‘net zero’ in the second half of this century as a way of keeping maximum global temperature rise well below 2ºC/1.5ºC. The science has been very clear on the need to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century for a high chance of limiting temperature rise to 1.5ºC. This trajectory also requires CO2 emissions to be phased out first and well before 2050. Although the IPCC did model 1.5ºC trajectories, the majority of scientists focus has been on modelling pathways to avoid 2ºC maximum temperature rise. The Paris Agreement aims to address this by creating the mandate for the IPCC to assess more pathways on how to avoid maximum 1.5ºC temperature rise:
In Paris, Parties agreed to “Invite[s] the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 ºC above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways” (Decision 1/CP21, paragraph 21).
Parties will play different roles in achieving the universal long-term goal, but they are united in their collective direction of travel and in their support for the regime that the Paris Agreement has set up.
Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and Long-term Strategies for Decarbonisation and Sustainable Development
The second major element of the Paris Agreement is the provision for bottom-up target setting and decarbonisation planning at the national level. Through a combination of ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (Article 3) and the ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’ (Article 4.19), details of how countries will achieve the global long-term goal through national target-setting, plans and projects will be publicly set out.
In the Agreement, all Parties are required to submit their NDCs every five years (Article 4.9), each time presenting more ambition than in the previous NDC. In this way Parties will have to progressively ratchet up the ambition of their commitments within the framework created by the long-term mitigation goal set out above. The Agreement itself creates a ‘technical expert review’ system for the NDCs, to assess each Party’s (developed and developing) progress in implementation and commitments to finance and adaptation expressed in their NDC, as well as the identification of capacity building needs arising since the last review in light of developing countries changing situations (Articles 13.11 and 13.12).
An integral complement to the NDCs submissions and review is the Paris Agreement’s provision for a ‘global stocktake’ (Article 14.1). The first such opportunity for a stocktake is the Facilitative Dialogue, which is to be convened in 2018 in accordance with Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 20. This commits Parties to the Paris Agreement “to convene a facilitative dialogue among Parties in 2018 to take stock of the collective efforts of Parties in relation to progress towards the long-term goal referred to in Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Agreement and to inform the preparation of nationally determined contributions pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 8, of the Agreement”.
The Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 and the global stocktake in 2023 will enable the UNFCCC to assess aggregate progress (total of all countries) to date against the trajectory required to stay within the 2ºC/1.5ºC global temperature limits, in order to ‘inform’ Parties’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in an effort to enhance their ambition and stay on track to achieve net zero by the second half of the century.
Raising ambition of existing and future NDCs is key to the success of the Agreement over time, as current commitments still result in a gap between what’s on the table and what’s necessary until the Agreement comes into force in 2020. UNFCCC, UNEP and civil society reviews have found current commitments are consistent with a 2.7ºC pathway, demonstrating the importance of the reviews and global stocktake for keeping the Agreement on track for net zero, in line with the scientific imperative.
As well as NDCs, Parties are invited to submit ‘long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies’ for 2050. These strategies would require modelling, planning and policy creation on how a country envisions its national development plans, including mitigation, adaptation and resilient development over the next thirty-five years. Although these strategies are not mandatory, they will support countries five-year cycles of submitting NDCs, and ensure that national plans remain grounded within the global long-term goal, which defines the safe operating space for future development.
The Agreement also sets out long-term goals for finance and adaptation:
Finance: Para 54 of the Decisions to give effect to the Agreement: “Also decides that, in accordance with Article 9, paragraph 3, of the Agreement, developed countries intend to continue their existing collective mobilization goal through 2025 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation; prior to 2025 the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries”
Adaptation: Article 7.1: “Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the temperature goal referred to in Article 2.”
Combined, these three goals covering mitigation, adaptation and finance provide a balanced way forward for both developed and developing countries to develop, mitigate, collaborate globally, and limit the worst impacts of climate change in the long-term. The Paris Agreement has all the hallmarks of an enduring regime that can be updated and adapted as the world changes over time and countries are forced to adapt and respond. The Paris Agreement is historic in achieving this.
The long-term goal of net zero GHG emissions in the second half of this century is the biggest signal yet to the real world economy, cities, businesses making investment decisions now and politicians all over the world, that fossil fuels are on the way out, and that healthier, cleaner and safer zero emissions societies must be built for all.