As governments signed up to the Paris agreement in 2015, they committed to officially checking in at the end of 2023 on how the fight against climate change is going.
This health check is known as the global stocktake and work toward it began at Cop26 in Glasgow in 2021.
After a lot of hard work, it now entering the home stretch before taking centre stage when governments gather at the Cop28 climate talks in Dubai.
It will tell us whether enough is being done on cutting emissions, adapting to climate change, funding climate action and rolling-out technology.
The answer is widely expected to be a resounding ‘no’. But observers hope the latest wake-up call will prompt countries to correct course and raise their efforts.
For Simon Stiell, the head of the UN’s climate change arm, the stocktake will be a moment of truth. “It must tell us where we are, where we need to go, and how we’ll get there”, he said.
A two-year process
Its final report will be the culmination of an extensive two-year process. Thousands of documents have been analysed and distilled through hundreds of hours of discussions.
Analysts don’t expect the stocktake to say anything particularly new. Report after report has already said the world is falling short.
But its findings will form the basis of the discussions at Cop28. Political leaders will reflect on them and may come up with a plan to fix their shortcomings.
Tom Evans, climate diplomacy analyst at E3G, hopes the stocktake will be “a launchpad for action going forward”.
The Stockholm Environment Institue’s Richard Klein, who is involved in the process, says there is lots of curiosity about how countries will react. “Are they going to commit to greater ambition or simply express concern once again?” he asked
Why a stocktake?
The stocktake is the central tool of the Paris Agreement to hold countries accountable for their collective efforts to achieve the targets they set themselves in 2015.
It tracks progress made on the pact’s three pillars: cut greenhouse gas emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and ideally 1.5°C; strengthen resilience to climate impacts; and provide the necessary financial and technological means to make this happen.
The stocktake is a core component of the so-called ‘ratchet mechanism’ built into the agreement.
It was clear from the outset that initial climate pledges would not be sufficient to meet the goals set in Paris. So the agreement encourages countries to raise their ambitions over time.
A virtuous circle
Carried out every five years from 2023, the stocktake is meant to guide countries as they update and enhance their pledges to bring them in line with the agreement.
At the heart of the exercise are the Nationally determined contributions (NDCs): each country’s individual strategy to reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts.
The process should create a virtuous circle. The collective analysis of all NDCs submitted by the 193 countries which signed the Paris agreement forms the basis for the stocktake’s findings. These will in turn inform the drafting of new and more robust NDCs.
The two-year stocktake is divided into three phases: the collection of source material; the technical assessment; the consideration of its output at a political level.
The first two phases – which overlap – are soon drawing to a close.
The volume of the material inputted into the exercise is massive. Countries and non-state actors have submitted thousands of documents.
The bulk of it is made up of the signatories’ NDCs, national adaptation plans, finance reports and technology needs assessments.
Add to this the IPCC scientific reports, technical analysis prepared by the UN climate change Secretariat and a long list of disparate contributions by NGOs.
“Just considering the adaptation chapter, if we put together what countries have written over the past few years it adds up to 18,000 pages,” says Richard Klein. “No one is going to be able to read all of that.”
The UN climate change secretariat has a coordinating role in sifting through the vast mass of information and preparing briefings and synthesis reports.
This material is then analysed and discussed during the technical assessment. This second phase of the stocktake will have lasted for one year when it formally ends at the annual Bonn climate talks in June.
The assessment culminates in a series of in-person meetings of country delegates and experts in an ‘open and transparent’ process. After reviewing the inputs, they are expected to come up with the key takeaways on the collective efforts to uphold the Paris Agreement.
Each meeting produces a summary report which captures the nature of the discussions and gives hints on what the final stocktake will feature.
E3G’s Tom Evans says the assessment is already clear. “We’re not making progress towards the goals of the Paris Agreement fast enough. We’re way off track across almost everything”, he added.
The latest summary report – published last month – does indeed say there has been “significant yet inadequate collective progress”. On both the cutting emissions and adaptating fronts, it says not only that the current plans are insufficient. But there are even problems in translating this inadequate ambition into real action, the so-called implementation gap.
After the final technical dialogue in June, the stocktake will enter its final, and most crucial, phase.
The recommendations featured in the final synthesis report will take center stage at Cop28 in Dubai. Here the technicians will hand the baton to the politicians. The goal is to ensure this lengthy exercise has a tangible real-world impact.
Enter the politicians
Leaders will kick off negotiations which should lead to a series of key political messages being featured in the Cop’s declaration. These will provide the guidance countries should follow to update their national plans.
“Every group and every country will have its own priorities and pet issues they would like to see reflected in the decision,” says Richard Klein. “They will all have their red lines.”
Tom Evans says ultimately some “champions” will need to step forward and broker an ambitious deal.
This could be the UAE Presidency, which is keen to have a breakthrough moment in Dubai. Despite its reliance on fossil fuels, the country seems to be warming to the idea of a fossil fuel phase out.
Governments failed to agree on that wording at last year’s summit, as fossil fuel producers Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iran were opposed.
That language’s inclusion at Cop28 will give a strong sense of direction, particularly if the words “unabated”, which means without carbon capture technology, are not added.
But, ultimately, the success or failure of the stocktake will become evident in 2025 by which time governments are supposed to have released their next batch of NDCs.
Only then we will be able to see if countries have raised their game to finally deliver the Paris Agreement.