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The Lima Call to Climate Action and the role of national pledges

15 Dec 2014

Overview

The key to interpreting the Lima Call to Action is understanding national mitigation pledges (called INDCs), and their central role in ongoing negotiations. The Lima outcome brought quite a bit of clarity to these pledges, but also highlighted key differences between major countries and challenges to be overcome.

 
Further to the Lima outcome, national pledges are:

  1. Required of all parties, though they must reflect national circumstances, and are unlikely to be legally binding;
     
  2. Must be transparent and comparable, and guidelines were set out to this end;
     
  3. Not required to include adaptation or climate finance; and
     
  4. Not subject to UN or peer review before the conference in Paris in December 2015, although the UN will make a report on the aggregate impact of pledges in November 2015.
     

Pledges now on the table are not sufficient to keep global warming to within 2 degrees, and on the basis of what was agreed it is difficult to see how the ambition gap will be closed by the end of 2015. Nor is it clear how the progress on implementing pledges will be monitored post-2020. These are key issues to be grappled with in coming months.

Overall, much work remains to be done before Paris, as evidenced by a 37-page negotiating text. But at least there is a text. That said, the positions of the four big blocs have remained almost unchanged: 

 

  1. The EU still wants a robust legally binding agreement;

  2. The US still wants a hybrid agreement that does not take the form of a Treaty;

  3. China and India are still opposed to an external monitoring, review and verification processes;

  4. The Less Developed Countries still want greater commitments to financial assistance from the developed countries.

 

Introduction

Expectations preceding the Lima climate conference were at an all-time high. A bottom-up and partly voluntary approach to international climate negotiations, which places national governments at the center, was making progress. In the lead-in to the conference the EU, China and the US had all made pledges to control emissions.

Lima was an opportunity to road-test this new approach. The Lima Call to Climate Action, agreed 30 hours after the deadline, was the final outcome. The appendix, which runs to some 37 pages of options for a final agreement, can be seen as the genesis of an international Treaty. This was the ultimate objective of the meeting  - to get a draft text on the table.

In the case of almost every important issue, however, several options remain. The meeting highlighted the substantive differences that remain between parties, which had to some extent been forgotten in the wake of the US-China agreement.  

Wading through the innumerable options reflected in the negotiating draft would be a thankless exercise. Rather we focus on the increasing clarity around national pledges, called “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), provided in the Lima Call to Action.

We begin with a very brief review of how we got here, tracing the genesis of the bottom-up approach. We then explore the increased clarity around the INDC concept which has emerged from Lima, looking at legal standing, who and what they cover, how ambitious they will be and how they will be evaluated.

 

A brief historical review: from top-down to bottom-up

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997, involved a top-down apportioning of legally binding targets between major developed economies. The problems with this approach were that the US never ratified, Canada withdrew and developing countries were not required to take action on emissions. While legally ambitious, therefore, it was not inclusive. 

It has not yet been possible to agree an effective successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol. The Copenhagen Accord started a process where developed countries would "commit to economy-wide emissions targets for 2020" and developing countries would submit and "implement mitigation actions" (which later became know as Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs)), to slow growth in their carbon emissions. While the Kyoto Protocol was extended to 2020 (at Doha in 2012), it shed even more countries and applies only to European countries.

Developed economies were therefore required to make economy-wide voluntary pledges for the period to 2020. Though the NAMA concept is still open to broad interpretation, a consensus seems to be emerging that they are effectively “sectoral mitigation actions”.

Individual nation states, whether developed or developing countries, are therefore required to make pledges on a voluntary basis. This is the essence of a bottom-up process, and a significant shift in emphasis since the failure of Copenhagen in 2009.

 

The Focus of Lima: national pledges to action

The focus of Lima was to agree the broad parameters of a climate Treaty for the post-2020 period. At COP 19 in Warsaw in 2013, it was agreed that all countries would “initiate or intensify preparation” of their pledges (INDCs), so that they could be submitted by March 2015. 

The key to understanding the Lima outcome is to be found in different ideas of what an INDC should be. Key uncertainties and differences relate to: 

  1. Their legal nature
     
  2. How they will be compared, monitored, reported and evaluated;
     
  3. Their individual and collective level of ambition;
     
  4. How they apply to developed and developing countries;
     
  5. Whether they include adaptation and finance.

These issues are dealt with in turn below, in each case setting out the progress made at Lima.

 

Legal Nature

The EU has been highly skeptical of an approach based on national pledges or INDCs. It has traditionally advocated a top-down legally binding accord, in line with meeting the 2 degree overall target.

While the EU has accepted the primacy of INDCs going into Lima, it was still looking for these commitments to be made legally binding. According to Elina Bardram, head of the EU delegation, “The EU is of the mind that legally binding mitigation targets are the only way to provide the necessary long-term signal, the necessary confidence to the investors ...”. She added that the EU wanted the 2015 agreement to have “legal force through robust rules, procedures and institutions, to ensure long-term certainty and accountability”.

The US, on the other hand was looking for a hybrid agreement combining legally binding and voluntary elements. Todd Stern, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, has called for “a legally binding obligation to submit a “schedule" for reducing emissions, plus various legally binding provisions for accounting, reporting, review, periodic updating of the schedules, etc. But the content of the schedule itself would not be legally binding at an international level”. Domestic legally binding measures could, according to Stern, be used to buttress international commitments. The US position is circumscribed by political reality: a legally binding mitigation commitment would need ratification by the Senate, which would never be achieved. 

In the end this was an issue where no clear outcome was achieved. The Lima Agreement refers to “a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force”, which leaves all options on the table. Specifically it states that “arrangements specified in this decision in relation to intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) are without prejudice to the legal nature and content” of this agreement. This would appear to suggest that INDCs will probably not be legally binding, or at least that they will not necessarily be legally binding.

Thus, while the text fails to offer full clarity on this issue, it seems unlikely that INDCs will ultimately have international legal force. The added value of legality is open to question in any case. While Kyoto was technically legally binding, the Canadian authorities merely withdrew from its legally binging commitments under the Kyoto Protocol when it became clear targets would not be met. According to UN legal opinion, by doing so Canada relieved itself of liability for penalty provisions applying under the Treaty for non-compliance.

 

Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV)

Perhaps more important than their legal nature are provisions for MRV of pledges, and on progress in implementing pledges. Good reporting protocols and rules for reporting on progress can enhance the likelihood of pledges being ambitious in the first place. It also increases the likelihood that pledges will be implemented by giving policymakers and civil society comparative information about the success of policies and by identifying areas for improvement.

Leading indicators, in particular, can provide early warnings of challenges in meeting targets and opportunities for improvement. MRV can also be developed which enables and supports good policies, by triggering additional supports or technical inputs as required and appropriate. 

MRV was a key issue at Lima and may well emerge as the key issue in the months ahead. The EU in particular, hoped that countries’ pledges would appear by Q1 2015, and could then be peer reviewed or reviewed by the UN for ambition and equity, known in the process as 'ex-ante review'. The EU and the US had also argued for robust international monitoring of pledge implementation (in the post-2020 period).

China has traditionally been opposed to international MRV of emissions. This may be because, according to the Climate Policy Initiative, some of China’s MRV systems lack transparent expert and public review of data and methods. Nor have the Indian authorities been particularly well disposed to international MRV of efforts to reduce emissions. This position appears to have been sustained at Lima, which both China and India persistently intervening to prevent any robust MRV requirements being imposed upon them by an external agency.

A pre-cursor to MRV is an agreed template for pledges. If INDCs follow a particular formula it enhances the ability for them to be understood, compared and for progress to be evaluated and benchmarked.

The text established that INDCs should be developed in a manner “that facilitates …clarity, transparency and understanding”. It states that they “may” include several elements (timeframes, scope, assumptions etc.) that would enable comparability. 

While these components would provide a robust template for INDCs, the use of “may” instead of “shall” means that countries are not required to include these components. These pledges are required “well in advance” of Paris, in December 2015, which represents a weakening of the current deadline (Q1 2015). Nor is provision made for UN or peer review of INDCs, though the UN is at least required to publish these INDCs, which will enhance transparency.

These factors mean that it will be difficult to evaluate or compare commitments. This effectively constitutes a victory for China and India, and is a significant weakening of the “bottom-up” approach.

Nor was there any indication in the agreement of how MRV would work post-2020. This is perhaps a crucial issue if INDCs are not legally binding and it could turn out to be a uniquely divisive one.

 

Ambition of INDCs

Related to MRV is the ambition of INDCs. The strength of a bottom up approach is that it is inclusive. The weakness is that it can lack ambition. The agreement notes “with grave concern” that current pledges leave a “significant gap” to an aggregate emission pathways consistent with a 2 °C or 1.5 °C target.

The agreement calls for INDCs to “represent progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party”. The UNFCCC is also required to publish a synthesis report by November 2015, “on the aggregate effect” of these commitments. While this will add transparency to the process, no provisions are made for either UN or peer review of individual commitments. 

Given the lack of agreement on components of INDCs noted above, combined with the lack of formal individual review, it will be challenging to identify in a scientifically robust manner if a county’s pledge is lacking ambition. It is perhaps therefore unlikely that this ambition gap will be significantly closed before Paris in 2015.

 

Developed and Developing Countries

China, India and others have argued that mitigation commitments should only apply to developed economies in keeping with the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. 

It should be noted, however, that INDCs and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities are not necessarily incompatible. This was demonstrated by the China-US climate agreement, where the pledges of these two key actors were quantitatively and qualitatively very different, reflecting differences in responsibility for climate change, emissions per capita, and ability to pay. 

The agreement led some to believe (or hope) that developing and emerging economies opposition to INDCs may have been waning. But Lima seems to have highlighted the substantial differences that still exist between the major players on this issue.

On the one hand, the agreement references “common but differentiated responsibilities” several times. The “special circumstances” of Lesser Developed Economies and small island states was also recognised within the context of INDCs. On the other hand, the text reaffirmed the requirement for all parties to submit INDCs.

Taking these considerations into account, it would appear that the views of developed countries have prevailed. As noted above, all countries are required to submit INDCs, although the timeframe for submissions has slipped. The over-simplistic division between developed and developing parties continues to wane. On the other hand, Indian environment minister Prakash Javedekar told reporters, that he had got what we wanted, saying the document preserved the notion that richer nations had to lead the way in making cuts in emissions. But for developed economies that was never at issue.

 

Adaptation and Finance

The US and EU called for INDCs to apply only to mitigation, and for finance, adaptation, technology and other issues to be dealt in the broader Treaty.  

Developing countries, on the other hand, had argued that INDCs should not just cover mitigation, but should be much broader. They see INDCs as a way of leveraging greater commitments from rich countries to provide finance for adaptation in particular. Rich countries argued, however, that it was unrealistic to expect them to commitment to financing in 2020, as it was too far into the future.

In the end, the Agreement invited “all Parties to consider communicating their undertakings in adaptation planning or consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions”. These would appear to reflect the negotiating position of the EU/US more closely, as they are not now required to include finance and adaption in their INDCs.

There is, however, a greater focus overall on adaptation. The pre-amble of the Treaty affirms a commitment to “to strengthen adaptation action through the protocol”, which could be seen as progress in placing adaptation on a more equal footing with mitigation actions. Several of the options in the draft negotiating text in the appendix would appear to reflect a growing recognition of the importance of adaption also (see page 2).

The agreement also urges “developed country Parties to provide and mobilize enhanced financial support to developing country Parties for ambitious mitigation and adaptation actions”, but this does not go beyond the current requirement.

 

Summary and Conclusions

The key to interpreting the Lima Call to Action is understanding national mitigation pledges (INDCs). The Lima outcome brought quite a bit of clarity to these pledges but also highlighted a number of differences between major blocs and challenges to be overcome.

Further to Lima national pledges are:

  1. Required of all parties, though they must reflect national circumstances, and are unlikely to be legally binding;
     
  2. Not required to include adaptation or climate finance, but they must be transparent and comparable, and guidelines were set out to this end;
     
  3. Not subject to UN or peer review before Paris, although the UN will make a report on the aggregate impact of pledges in November 2015.

 

Pledges now on the table are not sufficient to keep global warming to within 2 degrees, and on the basis of what was agreed it is difficult to see how the ambition gap can be closed by the end of 2015. Nor is it clear how the progress on implementing pledges will be monitored post-2020. These are key issues to be grappled with in coming months.

Overall, there remains much work to be done before Paris, as evidenced by a 37-page negotiating text. But at least there is a text. That said, the positions of the four big blocks have remained almost unchanged:

  1. The EU still wants a robust legally binding agreement;

  2. The US still wants a hybrid agreement that does not take the form of a Treaty;

  3. China and India are still opposed to an external monitoring, review and verification processes;

  4. The Less Developed Countries still want greater commitments to financial assistance from the developed countries.

As an independent forum, the Institute does not express any opinions of its own. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author.


Comments 1-1 of 1

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jw says: 16 Dec 2014 16:12

Great summary, thanks!

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