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Negotiation Factor 1: Design of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement has been called historical as it is the first time that both developed and developing countries will work on reducing their greenhouse gas emissions in order to achieve the 1.5 or 2 °C goal. While this target setting is ambitious, it remains to be seen whether countries will be sufficiently triggered to enhance the climate ambition level of their individual NDCs. From the text of the Paris Agreement the impression is that the 1.5-2 °C target will be leading and that countries will design their NDCs in economically and socially acceptable ways. However, most of the national climate plans submitted by over 170 countries before the Paris COP seemed to demonstrate that countries mainly aim at achieving national socio-economic goals with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions possible.

These two impressions are not the same: in the first one, climate goals are leading, whilst in the second one, national socio-economic goals are the main focus. In practice, this could lead to a gap between what countries will achieve via their NDCs and what the Paris Agreement aims at. A first indication of that was found in the UNEP Emissions Gap report based on an analysis of INDCs communicated before COP-21, which showed that “full implementation of unconditional INDC results in emission level estimates in 2030 that are most consistent with scenarios that limit global average temperature increase to below 3.5 °C until 2100 with a greater than 66 % chance” (UNEP 2015b, p. xviii). Rogelj et al. (2016) conclude that “the INDCs collectively lower greenhouse gas emissions compared to where current policies stand, but still imply a median warming of 2.6-3.1 % by 2100.”

An important result of the negotiations from Montreal (COP-11) to Paris (COP-21) has been that the coalition of countries to formulate national climate action plans (NDCs) has become worldwide, which is a big step forward in comparison with the Kyoto Protocol where only developed countries adopted legally-binding commitments on greenhouse gas emission reductions. The price that had to be paid for that, remember the discussion in Chap. 2 how broadening a climate coalition often goes at the expense of strictness of the agreed actions, is that countries are free to formulate their own actions; only the submission of the NDCs is mandatory and each update of the plans must be more ambitious than the former. A particular uncertainty is how countries will formulate their NDCs and whether planned actions will actually be implemented. This is an uncertainty that Paris has not addressed in detail and the INDCs submitted before the COP mostly lacked specific implementation plans and/or justification of how the proposed actions would lead to a pledged emission reduction. It must be noted though that countries had only a few months between ‘Lima’ and ‘Paris’ to formulate their climate plans, while experience with processes such as NAMAs and TNAs shows that such analytical and often participatory processes may easily require two years.

A recurring issue during the negotiations was that of differentiation. During the first 15 years of UNFCCC negotiations there was a clear distinction between developed and developing countries, based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities. In 2007, the Bali Action Plan referred to developed and developing countries and two years later, in Copenhagen, the issue of emission reduction targets for major emitting developing countries was an important negotiation topic. After ‘Copenhagen’, the road of ‘pledge-and-review’ was followed which gradually made developing countries feel more comfortable about formulating climate actions in light of their national socio-economic development priorities. Both the newly introduced concepts of NAMA, for mitigation actions, and NAP, for climate change adaptation, were based on embedding climate actions in national development planning. Eventually, this was the key to the successful broadening of the international climate policy coalition; the focus on voluntary actions extended the group of countries which communicated their INDCs to COP-21 to almost all countries, instead of the major emitters only.

With respect to implementation of and complying with the Paris Agreement, countries nowadays can benefit from a much wider institutional support than at the times of adopting the Kyoto Protocol. The development of the Adaptation Framework, the Green Climate Fund, and the Technology Mechanism gradually continued during the negotiations between 2005 and 2015. Moreover, the formulation and implementation of NDCs can greatly benefit from the large range of NAMA and TNA activities.

Realising that in a negotiation process such as in the case of the UNFCCC, without an overarching authority (as explained in Chap. 2), reaching a global coalition with legally-binding emission reduction commitments for all is extremely difficult, there could have been a risk of only a few countries adopting such measures, but with low collective, global impact. The 2005-2015 negotiations managed to reach a global coalition by tearing down the wall between Annex I and non-Annex I Parties and making the process of national climate action planning (NAMA, INDC, NDC) voluntary with international reviews. By making the publication and review process of NDCs mandatory, the Paris Agreement aims at avoiding that NDCs may become too little too late.

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