Pressure for regular reviews builds on India, China at Paris climate talks

UNEP chief Achim Steiner and coalition of over 100 countries urge envoys to commit to tough review process, but questions persist on funding

By Ed King in Paris

The EU’s top official raised the stakes at UN talks in Paris by claiming a new global deal to address climate change will be pointless unless it includes regular, five year reviews of national climate plans.

The comments from EU commissioner Miguel Arias Canete were aimed at a group of countries including India, China, and Saudi Arabia, who are believed to be holding out against frequent assessments of their carbon cuts.

Scientists say the burning of oil, gas and coal for energy needs to be radically slashed in the next two decades for the world to have a chance of avoiding dangerous levels of global warming.

“Without the five-year cycles, the agreement is meaningless,” said Canete, who pointed to the government in Beijing as one of the holdouts in the final hours of the Paris summit, which is scheduled to conclude at 6pm on Friday.

Finance, climate compensation and wording of a long term greenhouse gas slashing target are some of the other key issues expected to keep envoys working all night in the French capital.

Running through all these themes are tensions between rich, emerging and poor economies over who does what towards common goals.

COP21 LIVE: Clock ticking on Paris climate talks

To date, 185 countries have submitted national climate pledges towards a Paris deal. Collectively, these are projected to hold warming to 2.7C, not the 2C or even 1.5C limit under discussion.

These plans must be revisited to raise ambition, said Achim Steiner, head of the UN Environment Programme, in an interview with Climate Home.

“A Paris agreement without a review mechanism would lack a lot of credibility,” he said. “These national climate strategies, INDCs, will only take us part of the way to ensure an outcome below 2C.

“Paris can be an accelerator of ambition. The review mechanism is critical, fundamental to the ability of this outcome of Paris not falling short of keeping the hope alive of a 2C trajectory.”

A 100-strong coalition of countries ranging from the US, Colombia, St Lucia, Norway and the EU-28 has proposed a “stocktake” in 2018 or 2019, with updated climate plans due for 2020 or 2021.

Podcast: Bangladeshi expert talks rich-poor tensions and 1.5C

The US is keen on 2021 as a year to potentially update its climate plan, as 2020 is a presidential election year, although lead US envoy Todd Stern has not been explicit in public on timings.

References to the dates sit in the “decisions” part of the Paris agreement, which are not legally binding and are linked to actions to be taken ahead of 2020.

“It’s the only way we can give ourselves a chance to create the enabling conditions to go further,” said Thomas Spencer from the French think tank IDDRI.

We Mean Business, a collective of multinationals including Axa, Deloitte, China Steel and Mars, strongly supports an early analysis of ambition, and regular checks thereafter.

That’s according to CEO Nigel Topping, who told Climate Home in a recent interview India’s suggestion of reviews every 10 years was a “joke”.

Tony de Brum: The emerging climate champion at COP21

Christian Aid’s Mohamed Adow said the loose coalition backing the reviews had shown “good cooperation” but stressed any boost in ambition from developing countries would need to be backed by finance.

With countries locked in talks and apparently digging in on positions, the levels of finance and pre-2020 emission cuts from developed countries could determine how this plays out.

According to analysis from the Carbon Brief blog, climate plans from poorer nations require up to $3.5 trillion investments for them to become a reality.

Chris Dodwell from consultancy Ricardo, which advised a dozen developing countries on their climate plans, said there was “definitely scope for greater ambition” and urged officials to move a stocktake of emission cuts earlier than the proposed 2023.

“To get well below 2C, we can’t wait until 2023 for these additional reductions to be brought forward,” he said.

Report: Trillions hang on two sentences as Paris climate talks near climax

Leading climate economist Lord Stern warned any set of reviews will need to be linked to a long term goal. In line with a 2C warming threshold, emissions need to fall to zero by the end of the century.

“That is arithmetic – it’s not a political statement,” he said. “If we do [the transformation] badly, forget about 2C of warming, we’ll be heading to 3C or 4C.”

Meeting tougher climate goals by moving off coal and oil were no-brainers for emerging economies like China and India, he added, given the impacts using those fuels were having on human health.

“In China 4000 a day are killed by air pollution. 13 or the top 20 most polluted cities are in India. If it’s 4000 a day in China – how many in India? It’s enough to regard this as a deep deep problem,” he said.

“Moving from fossil fuels or capturing emissions would carry enormous benefits.”

Read more on: China | COP21 | EU | India