Timeframes and process related to commitments

Published on: September 7, 2015

Filed Under: Analysis, Draft Text

The following provides an analysis of Section J of the draft negotiating text for Paris, loosely entitled “Time frames and process related to commitments.” This section remains under-developed and covers a broad range of issues from the technicalities of mitigation requirements to the temporal scope of the Paris agreement. It also contains rules around information sharing; forward-looking consultation processes; aggregate assessments; and how the agreement should be formalized. Each of these issues will be examined in turn.

What are the central ideas contained in Section I of the negotiating text and what options have been proposed?

Dates: The starting date for implementation appears to be relatively settled; with an upper limit of 1 January 2021 and a lower limit of 1 January 2020.

The end date has more variation: parties have suggested 2030, 2040, 2050, 2100, or for the agreement to be “durable forever.” The former options seem an unlikely outcome. The preamble and objectives section both recognize scenarios consistent with the 2 °C goal will require substantial cuts by “mid-century” and net zero emissions by 2100, and the proposed mitigation contributions are usually framed around these dates; the length of the agreement ought to reflect that.

Mitigation Requirements:The proposed rules around updating and revising mitigation requirements range from the broadly worded “periodic updat[es]” to a more specific 5 year check-in system, which would begin in 2015 and would require compulsory communication 12-18 months prior to 2020 and every subsequent check-in thereafter. Developing country Parties suggest that meeting these requirements will be subject to support from developed countries.

The information required in the updates must represent a progression from previous commitments. Some options define this loosely, merely requiring Parties to “provide up-front information”. Others have rigorous criteria for explaining commitment updates – a reference point against a base year; a time frame for implementation; the percentage of national emissions covered; the overall quantified emission reductions anticipated; the methodology used for emission projection; specification of how land is being used; a description of source, type and intended use of market mechanisms; and an explanation of how each Party considers its NDC to be fair and ambitious.

Consideration of commitments: aex ante consideration process has also been suggested, where each commitment report would be followed by a consultation to assess its adequacy, fairness, and progress towards the objectives of the Paris agreement. In particular, this consultation would involve an examination of each commitment in light of climate science, historical responsibility, and respective national circumstances. It could take the form of a series of workshops or round tables between parties, a third party technical body that prepare reports, or even an interactive web platform. Notwithstanding, the many different forms such a process could take, it is generally agreed that it would be non-punitive process (like the majority of the suggested compliance measures); with any subsequent revisions also being voluntary.

Aggregate Ambition Assessments: additionally, it has been proposed that the governing body ought to provide an “aggregate ambition assessment.” This would amount to another layer of regular review – this time, of the aggregate ambition of all Parties commitments – with a goal of assessing progress toward the 2 °C objective. It would also provide a forum for enhanced multilateral understanding and action, may harness unrealized opportunities, and could provide non-punitive recommendations where necessary. The time-frames for this are not yet clear. 

Formalisation of Commitments: Finally, there are options around how the commitments made by Parties should be formalised. These included inscribing in them in one or more Annexes; inscribing them in attachments to the agreement; containing them in national schedules; recording them in an online registry; or adopting them by one or more decisions of the COP body. Each option has different implications for the overall legal form of the Paris agreement, and consequently, how effective it is likely to be. 

General Comment: As the variety of topics and options canvassed above suggest, this section is rather piece-meal and under-developed. “Structural Suggestions” noted by the drafters at the end of Section J consider the need to “[t]ailor the content of this section to specific areas” or even “move the content to the mitigation section.”  Such suggestions have value as timing is not consistently approached in the draft text and other specific sections have their own provisions on timing (see the Transparency section). Whether timing is addressed in a single section, or merged throughout on a section-by-section basis; it is important that the final agreement addresses time frames consistently rather than somewhere in between.

Conclusion:

This section is fairly straightforward but is central to the entire agreement. It adds considerable support to the mitigation section and, in addition to setting out the timeframes for Paris, may provide a number of crucial procedural instruments for enforcing and reporting on the final agreement. The overall timeframe is closely connected to the long-term mitigation goals (targetting 2050 and 2100), and is likely to reflect those goals. While the timing and content requirements of the contribution updates do have some provisional clauses, which are loosely worded and could allow Parties to effectively avoid commitment; there are also many options with comprehensive and specific criteria. Additional layers of ex ante and aggregate ambition assessment procedures show that the discussions so far have stressed the importance of multiple level support and communication across the wider NDC system.

Thomas Stuart and Simon Hillier | Image by Robin Maben

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