195 countries struck a landmark global warming deal in France last week. They’ve got work to do before it takes effect in 2020
By Alex Pashley
The Paris pact was a diplomatic triumph, committing 195 nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions for the first time ever.
Now they have to implement the deal. 2015 is likely to be the warmest year on record, with average temperatures tipping past 1C above pre industrial levels.
And to meet a new aspirational goal to limit warming to 1.5C, radical cuts to oil, gas and coal use are needed, along with a fast uptake of cleaner forms of energy.
Here are the key markers over the next five years before it takes effect.
The UN will report back with the final verdict on how much countries’ climate plans arrest global warming. In October, the Bonn-based secretariat said pledges by 146 countries including all major polluters are set to hold warming to 2.7C this century from 3-4C.
Another 41 have since come forward, leaving just 8 holdouts. Notable emitters Saudi Arabia, Iran and Nigeria were among the late pledgers, but don’t expect the dial to move much.
Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon holds a “high-level signature ceremony” at UN HQ in New York. It will the moment to swear in the Paris agreement, if 55 countries accounting for 55% of global emissions show up. That signature book will remain open for a year. Though countries have to “deposit their respective instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession” for it to fully enter into force.
Political will at this December’s summit was unprecedented: more than 140 world leaders showed. Yet past accords have been slow to sign off. The Kyoto Protocol’s second commitment period (or Doha Amendment), supervising emissions cuts from 2013-2020, remains on the shelf. 148 need to rubberstamp it. Just 58 had, as of 10 December.
We’re likely to have just one round of interim talks this year, though a meeting in February could announce a second around November. 2015’s bumper year called envoys to Bonn twice and Geneva once.
The UN’s climate debating chamber is newly christened APA (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris agreement). It used to be the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action), until its four years of work concluded last week. Once the agreement is ratified it will morph into the CMA (the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement).
Expect sessions to number two a year or more the closer we get to 2020, says Nick Chan, a negotiator for Palau.
The UN’s aviation authority gets together for its triennial assembly. Aircraft and shipping got a free pass in the Paris agreement and aren’t subject to carbon cuts given to the global nature of their pollution.
Yet the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) meeting is expected to finalise a mechanism to offset emissions, known as a market-based measure.
“We believe come September there will be a proper agreement adopted under ICAO,” Michael Gill of industry group IATA, told Climate Home last week. Sticking points like how airlines report emissions and if carriers from both developed and developing countries are bound to cuts remain to be ironed out.
Paris ups sticks to Marrakesh for the next two-week Conference of the Parties, or COP22. Fleshing out top decisions struck in the French capital will be key.
The issue of “loss and damage” will take centre stage, according to Bangladeshi expert Saleemul Huq. A two-year-old mechanism created to explore how developing countries can get climate aid in the event of extreme weather events was formally embedded in the Paris pact.
The 20-person committee of the ‘Warsaw International Mechanism’ will report back with suggestions for tackling displacement and migration, and broadening insurance programmes for vulnerable populations.
The 45th President of the USA could continue Barack Obama’s climate legacy or tear it to shreds. Hilary Clinton is the hot favourite to win the Democratic nomination and backs a mass solar power roll-out.
The Republican party on the other hand is hostile to environmental regulations, and many including forerunner Donald Trump dispute the evidence of human influence on the climate.
The GOP is grappling to unpick EPA regulations and sink the payment of climate aid for developing countries. A Republican victory could overturn the US’ feted climate leadership and weaken partners’ resolve to enact tough carbon cuts.
The deluge of national pledges submitted to the UN was unprecedented, but failed in reining in carbon pollution to cap warming at “well below 2C” this century. That’s why countries agreed to assess the power of pledges in 2018.
Not just carbon-cutting efforts will figure. How countries are adapting to a warmer planet and if they are receiving adequate support is also up. The UN climate science panel, the IPCC, will provide a report on how countries can limit warming to the stricter 1.5C target, targeted in Paris, to inform the event.
This “ratchet mechanism” is crucial to bridge the gap between lacking pledges and climate calamity. From then every five years and starting in 2023, the annual meeting or Conference of the Parties will be the venue for stocktakes.
Countries are invited by 2020 to communicate “mid-century, long term low greenhouse gas emissions development strategies.” It means they have to demonstrate how they will slash carbon in line with the “well below 2C” goal. The UK already has an 80% cut on 1990 levels by 2050 enshrined in law.
Here’s more on what are called deep decarbonisation pathways in scientific circles.
As the next decade begins, the Paris agreement comes into force. Rich countries should begin providing $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor countries as a “floor”. It’s been agreed to run until 2025.
How will India PM Narendra Modi’s “Solar Alliance” fare? It brings together 120 nations with abundant rays to see poor regions leapfrog from dirty to clean power.
The President Obama and Bill Gates-backed Mission Innovation looks to drive down R&D costs to make clean energy economic with fossil fuels. It plans to double the level of global funding to $20bn over the next five years, but will it spur the breakthrough needed to dislodge cheap and abundant dirty energy?
The UN’s climate science panel is expected to produce its sixth audit before 2020. It released its mammoth Fifth Assessment Report in two stages in 2013 and 2014, which sharpened the link between human interference and global warming. The bureau under recently-elected chair Hoesung Lee could take a change of direction, drawing more on the social sciences and refining its message.
Article updated to add detail about instruments required to ratify agreement, and clarification on transformation from ADP to CMA.