UN climate pledges and review process discussed in Morocco

16 October 2015

A suite of national climate action plans, submitted as part of UN talks on a post-2020 climate regime, were reviewed during an informal international forum held in Rabat, Morocco on 13 October. Participants concluded that the submissions by some 150 countries signals broad engagement in the multilateral process, but many also voiced support for including a long term emissions-cutting goal and review mechanism in the new deal, according to an EU press release.

The national plans, also known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in UN-speak, will form the building blocks of an agreement to be inked at a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet in Paris, France this December.

All countries that submitted on or before the 1 October will be included in a UN review of the pledges’ aggregate impact on reducing global climate-warming greenhouse gases (GHGs) emissions.

While each plan includes at least a mitigation goal, the pledges differ considerably with regards to the type of emissions reductions, baselines, sectors covered, and implementation timelines. The UN’s “synthesis report,” scheduled for release on 1 November, should provide some much needed transparency for parties to understand the cumulative projected impact and level of ambition of the INDCs ahead of the Paris meet.

A total number of 119 parties, counting the EU 28 member nations as one, covering nearly 86 percent of global terrestrial greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions made the October deadline, according to data provided by the World Resources Institute (WRI).

“Countries have done serious work, approved at the highest political level, to design comprehensive climate strategies, many for the first time. This is unprecedented,” said EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete at the Rabat INDC forum organised by the European Commission, the Moroccan government, the UN Development Programme, and the UN Environment Programme.

“The initial contributions on the table make a significant difference, but these alone will not be enough,” he continued. “That’s why in Paris we need to agree a long-term goal to guide our efforts, a process for taking stock of the progress made and raising ambition, and robust transparency and accountability rules. The new deal must show the world that governments are united, determined and serious when it comes to fighting climate change.”

Review process debated

A preliminary assessment by Climate Action Tracker finds that the INDCs submitted thus far would nevertheless result in global temperature rise of 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The international community through the UNFCCC has pledged to keep the world below a two degree Celsius warming in order to avoid the more disastrous consequences of climate change. 

This so-called “emissions-gap” has focused attention among climate watchers and governments alike on the possible mechanics of an INDC review process for the Paris deal. Many of the pledges to date have also indicated a five year or ten year time frame only.

On 5 October the co-chairs of the UNFCCC talks in this area put forward a much-anticipated “non-paper” that seeks to clarify textual options for the deal, with one proposal inviting parties to put forward new national mitigation commitments or contributions every five years, a position supported by many developed nations and international organisations. This architecture would, in theory, allow for the scaling up of ambition over time. (See BioRes, 7 October 2015)

Other potential review aspects of the deal include establishing a transparency system to understand how each pledge is contributing towards aggregate mitigation efforts. The draft agreement also envisages a global stocktaking process and a mechanism to facilitate implementation and compliance. Further details in these areas would, however, likely be determined after Paris.

According to several experts, the Paris deal will almost certainly not impose a sanction system to discipline those that fall behind, but will instead adopt a softer, more collaborative approach.

“Even if you do have a punitive system, that doesn't guarantee that it is going to be imposed or would lead to any better action,” Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC Executive Secretary, told Reuters recently.

Other climate watchers and some countries, however, continue to fear that the lack of anything “binding” in the Paris deal could see key players disengage such as when Canada pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol.

The co-chairs’ non-paper will form the basis of the next round of formal negotiations scheduled for 19-23 October in Bonn, Germany where parties are aiming to make progress on the details of the new multilateral climate regime.

India’s climate pledge

The Indian government submitted its climate action plan late into the evening on 1 October. The last major economy to outline a pledge, India was joined by over 100 developing countries that raced to meet this targeted date for national submissions. Some experts viewed India’s climate pledge as a milestone in the climate talks, signalling a new level of participation from this critical emerging economy.

 In its 38-page INDC Delhi references both yoga and “Mother Earth,” and emphasises emissions cuts anchored by the principles of climate justice and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) in light of respective capabilities.

India promises to reduce its emissions intensity 33 to 35 percent by 2030 relative to 2005 levels, although the coverage and metrics of the INDC are not specified. A carbon intensity-goal unlike the absolute emissions targets set forth by the EU and US, will allow India’s emissions to grow as its economy expands, but at a rate lower than current levels.

India’s INDC sets the context for its effort by noting that the country faces significant challenges for securing economic progress, with some 300 million people living in poverty and without access to electricity, infrastructure deficits, and various pressing social and environmental challenges.  

While reaffirming the continued use of coal in India’s electricity mix, the INDC strengthens India’s commitment to renewable energy, pledging to increase the non-fossil fuel share of installed cumulative electricity capacity to 40 percent with the help of technology transfer and low cost international financing.

This builds on a renewable energy policy already in place that targets 175 gigawatts (GW) of power from renewables by 2022.

“India now has positioned itself as a global leader in clean energy,” said Rhea Suh, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a US-based environmental organisation reporting on India’s submission.

According to an assessment by Climate Action Tracker, India is already on track to achieve an emissions intensity reduction of around 41.5 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 with current policies. Thus, some analysts claim that India’s overall emissions intensity goal does not capture the carbon reductions it would achieve by meeting existing renewable energy targets.

In addition to its emissions intensity target and renewable energy goals, India has pledged to create an additional sink of 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent through additional forest and tree cover by 2030.

The INDC does not refer to the use of international market mechanisms to reach its targets and it made no mention of when India is hoping to peak carbon emissions, two distinct differences compared to China’s INDC submission. (See BioRes, 2 July 2015)

India has recently clashed with other big economic players such as the US, however, over domestic support arrangements around renewable energy. Washington has taken Delhi to the WTO over “local content requirements” (LCR) that form part of its national solar power development programme. A panel was established by the global trade arbiter and experts expect the findings to be released soon. (See BioRes, 2 June 2014)

Price tag

In order to reach its climate targets Delhi provides a “preliminary estimate” that it will require at least US$2.5 trillion, at 2014-2015 prices, from now until 2030. According to the INDC text, this includes US$834 billion for the scaling up of mitigation activities for low carbon development by 2030.

As a country highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, India also calls for US$206 billion for implementing adaptation actions in agriculture, forestry, fisheries infrastructure, water resources and ecosystems.

Additional funds are then needed for “strengthening resilience and disaster management,” projecting that costs from climate change due to loss and damage will be around 1.8 percent of India’s GDP annually by 2050.

Many developing countries’ INDCs are conditional on receiving international climate finance, however, India has the highest price tag thus far and is not specific on how the aggregate figure should be divvied up between international and domestic finance.

Where this money will come from and how it will be distributed among developing countries continues to be a hotly contested issue in the climate negotiations. (See BioRes, 15 October 2015

Rising level of participation

Some of the last larger emitters, other than India, to submit plans included Brazil, Turkey, Argentina, and South Africa.

The Philippines, Bangladesh, Peru, Thailand, Honduras, Laos, Sierra Leone, Kazakhstan, Gambia, Chad, Rwanda, Malawi, and Solomon Islands represent a small sample of the South American, African, Asian, and small-island developing nations that equally outlined climate plans in time.

A few countries filed plans with the UNFCCC secretariat after the October 1 deadline. Afghanistan submitted its plan on 6 October. Two more countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina and Malawi submitted their INDCs on 8 October, bringing the total number of pledges to 122 or 150 countries given that the 28-nation EU has submitted as one bloc.

Some 46 parties, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Nigeria as the last-remaining big-emitters, have not yet come forward with climate action plans. Reports from New York indicate that the UN Secretary General’s office may follow up with these three nations with regard to their non-submission.

ICTSD reporting; “INDC Roundup: Steady stream of climate pledges on UN deadline day,” CARBON PULSE, 2 October 2015; “India Pledges Clean-Energy Push in UN Climate Submission,” BLOOMBERG, 2 October 2015; “Enforcing a global climate deal: speak loudly, carry no stick,” REUTERS, 12 October 2015. 

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