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Negotiating Modalities for Implementing Paris Agreement

In this book a development in negotiations has been described from an initial focus on mandatory national emission caps for countries towards formulating national climate plans in accordance with domestic circumstances. Especially with a view to bringing developing countries on board of an international climate coalition, this approach turned out to be effective, as has been demonstrated by the global support for the Paris Agreement. A consequence of embedding climate plans in national planning (both for climate change mitigation and adaptation) is that countries may determine for themselves what their social, environmental and economic priorities are, how they plan to realise these, and how this could be done with low greenhouse gas emissions and strong resilience to climate change. Therefore, countries’ climate plans (the NDCs) will, by their nature, be characterised by voluntary pledges, which could complicate enforcement of proposed actions. Moreover, communicating an NDC does not mean that the plan will be ready for implementation.

Therefore, the implementation of the Paris Agreement faces a number of challenges. First, since in NDCs greenhouse gas emission measures are considered in combination with national or local priorities, reviewers need to understand countries’ social, political and economic perspectives (Van Asselt and Boessner 2016). For that, the Paris Agreement has established an implementation and compliance mechanism (UNFCCC 2015, p. 19, Art. 15) which will review whether countries achieve what they had planned in their NDCs.

Second, especially for developing countries there will be capacity needs to communicate NDCs that not only describe how climate actions fit in national development goals, but also contain clear investment or business proposals that can be considered by potential funders. For example, this challenge has become clear from a synthesis of technology needs assessments (TNA[1]) carried out by 31 developing countries during 2009-2013 (UNFCCC 2013). From this report, it has become clear that developing countries have been able to embed climate technology choices in their sustainable development planning, which is the main goal of a TNA. Subsequently, countries identified barriers to the development and transfer of prioritised technologies at the desired implementation scale, followed by finding solutions to address these barriers. These solutions form the core of a technology action plan (TAP). In a report by the Technology Executive Committee in 2014 (UNFCCC 2014), interviews were held with 30 TNA practitioners and international technology transfer experts on how they perceived the quality of the TAPs as concrete business or investment proposals for implementation of priority technologies and where, in their view, improvements could be made.

In general, the interviews made clear that TAPs lacked information about the “business case” of deploying or diffusing the priority technologies in the countries concerned. Most plans contained information about costs, but a clear indication of how these costs relate to the benefits accruing from a technology was often lacking. Such benefit to cost ratios do not have to be detailed, but policy makers and investors (both public and private) need to have a good overview of the economic benefits of a technology (e.g., at the project/programme level or for the national economy) within a country during a certain timeframe, including the impact of policy decisions on the implementability of the technology (UNFCCC 2014). Interviewees in the TEC report recommended a stronger involvement of financial experts and potential investors throughout the TNA process, as they could inform country teams about requirements for well-structured investment plans. From the analysis, it was also recommended to identify a few specific roles and responsibilities in the implementation process such as ‘brokers’ with a good understanding of the banking sector in the country concerned so that perceived investment risks could be addressed and mitigated.

While the Paris Agreement has been the outcome of a high-level political negotiation process with a focus on an overarching global climate target, with responsibilities for developed and developing countries in achieving this target, it is likely that the next series of negotiations will have a stronger focus on more technical discussions: how can countries formulate ambitious climate policy pledges, how to support implementation of these, and how to review this planning and implementation? As such, the next years may be comparable to the negotiations that followed the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 (van der Gaast 2015). While the protocol was clear about commitments and policy instruments that could be used for complying with these, translating commitments in national actions and how to apply the policy instruments, especially CDM and JI, needed further elaboration. The Buenos Aires Plan of Action of 1998 (see Chap. 4) kicked off a new negotiation ‘round’ on these more technical aspects, which were concluded at COP-7 in Marrakech (2001) with the Marrakech Accords. For example, with ‘Marrakech’, countries had a rulebook for setting up CDM and JI projects and to account for the emission reductions as carbon credits.

The fact that negotiations on the Buenos Aires Plan of Action were much more technical than those leading to the Kyoto Protocol itself, did not mean that they were not political. On the contrary, the use of CDM and JI credits against developed countries’ commitments was controversial as it was seen by several developing countries and environmental organisations as a cheap way out of developed countries’ commitments (van der Gaast 2015). In order to address these concerns, the EU proposed a rule to maximise the amount of carbon credits that developed countries could acquire from CDM and JI projects for complying with their Kyoto Protocol commitments (as explained in Chap. 4). Eventually, such a maximum rule did not survive the negotiations, but the tone and argumentation had similarities with the discussions on ‘differentiation’ which dominated the negotiations towards the Paris Agreement so strongly.

Most attention during these technical negotiations between 1998 and 2002 was paid to the accounting of greenhouse gas emission reductions achieved via CDM and JI projects. The main issues during these negotiations were how to make sure that claimed emission reduction were additional to what would have happened anyway and how to calculate emission reductions. In light of that, the negotiations sought a balance between, on the one hand, accepting that some aspects could not be accounted for, and, on the other hand, strict additionality tests to ensure that all carbon credits would be based on real and additional emission reductions. Here the negotiations touched upon the trade-off between strong environmental integrity and building a broad coalition for CDM and JI project collaboration: too strict project procedures could scare off potential investors so that the full potential of CDM and JI would not be used (van der Gaast 2015).

In order to handle these design issues, the process for negotiating JI/CDM modalities and procedures during 1998 and 2001 mainly took place at sessions of the UNFCCC’s subsidiary bodies with decisions taken or endorsed by the annual COP. Once the negotiation process on the 1998 Buenos Aires Plan of Action had been completed with the Marrakech Accords of 2001, negotiations on JI and CDM issues moved to the CDM Executive Board and the JI Supervisory Committee (both technical bodies for supervision of methodologies and project registration had been established under the Kyoto Protocol). As a result, technical negotiation bodies handled the technical accounting aspects, but when questions arose that needed political guidance, issues were tabled at the COP sessions.

In terms of tactics, after the US withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol in 2001, the EU took a more flexible position on how many carbon credits developed countries could purchase through JI and CDM and use for compliance with their Kyoto commitments (this was an important reason why the above-mentioned rule on maximising use of carbon credits disappeared from the negotiation table). In this respect, the EU was willing to accept a trade-off regarding the environmental strictness of using CDM and JI (more flexible accounting rules) in return for gaining support for the Kyoto Protocol from other developed countries (see Chap. 4). Other tactical aspects of these more technical negotiations, were the many reports and scientific publications on technical issues, e.g., Kartha et al. (2004) and PROBASE (2003). Second, early investor actions in CDM and JI projects (such as the World Bank and the Netherlands Government) supported the development of guidelines for greenhouse gas accounting and fed negotiators with concrete hands-on information on how to develop accounting rules that strike a balance between environmental strictness and pragmatism (van der Gaast 2015).

Based on the experience with negotiating Kyoto Protocol modalities and procedures during 1998-2008, it is likely that negotiations on modalities and procedures for implementing the Paris Agreement follow similar patterns. Similar to discussions on CDM and JI, negotiations can start, for example, with strict proposals for review procedures that some countries may consider absolutely necessary for achieving the goal of the Paris Agreement, while other countries may find these proposals too strict and expensive to implement. Then, the negotiation process needs flexibility to bring these opposing views together by leaving some issues to technical negotiation bodies while discussing other issues at the COP level, so that eventually a global coalition is not only achieved for the Paris Agreement, but also for its implementation plan. In order to move the negotiations in the right directions at crucial stages, tactics are needed such as personalities, inputs from knowledge institutes and pressure from outside of the negotiations, such as business, society and science.

  • [1] TNAs are country-driven assessments with the goal to support developing countries in prioritisingtechnologies for mitigation and adaptation against their social, environment and economic priorities. TNAs are financially supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and managed byUNEP and the UNEP Danish Technical University Partnership. Over 90 TNAs were conductedbetween 1999 and 2009, which was followed by the Global TNA Project which started in 2009,and in which over 55 developing countries have thus far taken part (UNEP-DTU Partnership2016).
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