Author Archives: Benito Muller

COP26: Clouds and silver linings

David Robinson

David Robinson, Senior Research Fellow, OCP

In view of the climate emergency we face and the short time we have to address it, no single COP outcome will ever be sufficient to meet the challenge. COP26 is no exception to this rule. Indeed, the sense of urgency has never been greater following the IPCC report in August that gave the world less than ten years to halve global emissions to have a reasonable chance of avoiding climate catastrophe. A process that requires consensus among 200 countries could never be radical enough or move quickly enough. The inevitable compromises and slowness of the process are bound to disappoint almost everyone, but especially the young, whose future is in play, and the people living in the areas most vulnerable to the effects of climate change who have no responsibility for causing it. The sense of injustice is especially acute following the Covid-19 pandemic and the absence of solidarity related to vaccine distribution.

Furthermore, a global treaty – like the Paris Agreement (PA) – that relies on voluntary pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions, NDCs) to mitigate emissions growth is always going to disappoint if one compares those pledges with what the science requires. National self-interest, special corporate or political interests and the tendency to free-ride (let others pay) will almost always make global agreements weaker than they need to be to secure global public goods. At COP26, the power of a few major emitters (US, China, India) to weaken the global pact to phase out coal is an illustration of the problem of reaching ambitious agreements. The unwillingness of the wealthy countries to compensate the poorest for losses and damages was also depressingly predictable. But the failure of the wealthy countries to meet their 2009 commitment to funnel $100 billion/year to the developing countries by 2020 was even worse since it illustrated the failure to deliver on pledges.  The sense of disappointment and injustice on the part of developing countries is particularly problematic because it undermines the support that is essential to meeting the global crises of climate change and poverty. In particular, failure to pursue sustainable economic development in the global south will lead to emissions growth that overwhelms reductions in the global north, accelerating climate change and contributing to geopolitical insecurity. 

Many observers expect too much from a COP.  Negotiators come to the COP with a clear idea of what they can agree to and what are the red lines. When Ministers arrive in the second week, they too have clear instructions. There is always some room for negotiations, but not nearly as much as most people seem to think. The logic of the PA is that pressure will build over time on governments to enhance the ambition of their national pledges, but the latter will always be limited by national interests and reluctance to bear the burden. This almost ensures that COPs will disappoint those who expect major breakthroughs.

Even positive news at COP26 is open to question. The strength of pledges to cut emissions is undermined by the fact that key countries do not sign them, most notably a ‘Powering Past Coal’ alliance that leaves out China, India and other major coal producers.  Commitments to climate neutrality in 30-50 years ring hollow when not accompanied by detailed transition plans. Add to that the serious doubts about whether the net-zero pledges by governments and companies are greenwashing and whether there is any way to ensure compliance.

In spite of the very legitimate reasons to be alarmed at the inability of COPs – and COP26 in particular – to address the global climate crisis and the underlying problems of injustice, there are reasons to be encouraged and to continue to fight for more ambition. To begin, COP26 reflects and will accelerate the process of de-carbonization. The dramatic decline in the cost of renewables, batteries and electric vehicles confirms the potential for policy support, innovation, competition and scale to change the game. The pressure on the fossil fuel industry will intensify as global finance increasingly focuses on green energy. Stranded fossil fuel assets are inevitable. Although the world will continue to rely on fossil fuels for some time, the hydrocarbon industry is acutely aware that their future depends now on becoming part of the solution. That is why investment in oil and gas has been falling and why investment in renewables has been growing quickly (although not nearly fast enough).

Second, the many ambitious pledges by State and non-State actors are a reflection of the pressures they face to act and the fact that action is now increasingly attractive from an economic perspective. In particular, the agreement signed by 100 countries to reduce methane emissions by 30% by 2030 will have an important impact on greenhouse gas emissions, provided the commitments are realized. Likewise, COP26 saw governments, cities, major automakers, financial institutions and others sign on to an agreement to transition to 100% zero emission sales of new cars and vans by 2040 globally and by 2035 in “leading markets”. Although these pledges do not include all key countries, they are a sign of increasing ambition from State and non-State actors. Indeed, it is fair to say that we are witnessing competition among major regional political actors and industrial groups to be the first to get to net zero emissions and to develop the technologies and business models of the future. 

Third, COP26 has begun to address issues that had previously been ignored or inadequately treated. The Paris Agreement does not refer at all to energy. But under the final Glasgow Climate Pact, 196 countries agree to “accelerating efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”; definitely not as bold as most countries demanded, but certainly progress. COP26 has also anchored permanently the ocean in the multilateral climate change regime.

Fourth, progress is especially evident in the engagement of the private financial sector. Over 400 of the world’s largest financial institutions – managing over $120 trillion – signed the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. These companies are not promising to invest all their assets in net zero activities, but they have agreed to use science-based guidelines to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, cover all emission scopes, include 2030 interim target settings and commit to transparent reporting and accounting in line with Race to Zero criteria. This is a game changer. When banks hear that the world must invest $4 trillion a year to address climate change, they now begin to calculate how many deals that amounts to for them.

Fifth, COP26 has finalized the rule book for the Paris Agreement, in particular on transparency, to ensure that signatories make pledges that can be verified, on a common time frame that leads to greater ambition, and on a carbon trading framework that should enable global decarbonization at lower cost. The rules are far from perfect, but they provide a necessary framework; like a chessboard with rules that allow this critical global game of chess to be played.

Sixth, China and the US reached an unexpected agreement at the end of COP26 to work more closely to combat climate change with urgency this decade. Although the agreement is light on details, it does state that both countries will work to lower carbon and methane emissions and employ technologies such as carbon capture and sequestration. As the two largest emitters, this agreement has the potential to encourage other countries to be more ambitious, much as the US-China agreement in 2015 was instrumental in making the Paris Agreement possible.

Seventh, there was some limited progress on finance commitments. Developed countries agreed to double their adaptation finance from 2019, by 2025; the Glasgow Dialogue between parties on loss and damage will convene from 2022 to 2024; and the final text urges developed countries to fully deliver on the $100 billion goal “urgently” through 2025.

Eighth, going into the COP, the UN estimated that NDCs would lead to 2.7ºC of global warming by 2100, well below the estimates above 3ºC following the PA. Taking account of net zero national pledges, new NDCs before and at the COP and other commitments (especially the Global Methane Pledge), estimates of global warming by 2100 could now range from 1.8ºC to 2.º4C, assuming the pledges are fully implemented. Certainly not good enough, but definitely progress towards the goal to limit warming to 1.5ºC.

Finally, the most positive message from COP26 is the evidence that citizen activism matters and can have an effect, especially in countries with democratic systems. Of course, activists will be disappointed with the COP outcome; it would never deliver what they demand. On the other hand, their actions before the COP have an impact, as does their presence at the COP. We have witnessed this power in successful court cases brought by young people against companies and governments, and through action that has led to more climate-friendly policy and corporate decisions. Although activists are not actively involved in negotiations at COP26, their presence inside the venue and outside (and the sound of helicopters controlling their movements) is a constant reminder to all state and non-state participants at the COP and to the world at large that they are watching and will never be silenced or satisfied.

The Common Time Frame has landed!

But the Ambition Cycle is still in need of completion

At the arrival gate in Glasgow. Photo credit: Kiara Worth/UNFCCC

In December last year, following the Technical Climate Dialogue on Common Time Frames convened by the Chair of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), an OCP blog announced:  ‘Ambition Cycle on course to land in Glasgow’ and I’m pleased to be able to confirm that (at least part of) it has landed.

The Glasgow CTF Decision

I have had the honour of being part of a group of stakeholders that has been working tirelessly and doggedly over the past seven years to bring about this outcome, even though the odds were 4:1 stacked against us: We were advocating 5-yearly synchronised NDC end-years – para. 1 of the Glasgow Ambition Cycle (GAC.1), see Box – while almost 80 percent of the first NDCs communicated by 2020 had a 10-year time frame (ending in 2030).

It is difficult to say when the balance tipped towards the five-year frequency of NDC end-years but it was an uphill struggle – clearly the preference expressed by the EU Environment Council at the beginning of October “for a common time frame of five years for all Parties’ NDCs ” did accelerate the acceptance of the five-year frequency.

Having dwelled over and over on why this particular common time frame is absolutely key in completing the Paris Ambition Mechanism  – see, for example, Müller and Kumarsingh (2020) or Müller (2021c) – I do not wish to go into any details but simply stress that the Glasgow CTF decision is a significant step towards a fully functioning and ambition facilitating rule book of the Paris Agreement.

COP 26 Mural by Cécile Girardin

However, there is still something missing. The Glasgow CTF decision corresponds to GAC.1, but it does not include the request for regular (5-yearly) synchronised ambition updating, referred to GAC.2.

As Matt McGrath, BBC environment correspondent commented in his initial analysis of the  draft Glasgow cover decision: The document may be just seven pages long but it attempts to steer COP26 towards a series of significant steps that will prevent global temperature rises going above 1.5C this century. Perhaps the most important part of that is getting countries to improve their carbon cutting plans. To that end this draft decision urges parties to “revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally-determined contributions, as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022”

Revisiting and strengthening the ambition of NDCs that have been communicated earlier is indeed key to harnessing much needed additional overall ambition; but to maximise the additional ambition, the process needs a time table for regular (5-yearly) synchronised updating, as stipulated in GAC.2

What to do? Fortunately, GAC.2 can easily be interpreted as the sort of guidance referred to in Art. 4.11: “A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition, in accordance with guidance adopted by the [CMA]”.

So, let’s all try and land this guidance in Sharm el Sheik at COP 27 next year!


The long journey: October 2014 to November 2021

Rolling Time Frames … the Article 4.10 landing zone in Glasgow

Informal Ministerial Consultation on Common Time Frames for NDCs, 7 September 2021

A rolling Double Gloucester, NOT a rolling time frame

Benito Müller

Summary

On 7 September 2021, Minister Mujawamariya of Rwanda and Minister Sommaruga of Switzerland, invited by the COP 26 Presidency to consult with ministers on Common Time Frames (CTF) for NDCs, convened a virtual informal ministerial CTF consultation. This was preceded by an OCP/ecbi prep-meeting on 3 September.

Simonetta Sommaruga and Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya

Judging from the interventions during the consultation, there remain only two ‘process options’ of what Parties to the Paris Agreement are meant to be doing regarding communication in 2025, namely to:

[1]     communicate a 2040 NDC, i.e., an NDC with a time frame up to 2040 (10-year Option put forward by Saudi Arabia on behalf of the Arab Group), or

[2]     communicate a 2035 NDC and repeat every 5 years (5-year Option endorsed by everyone else who referred to such a process option).

To be clear, Saudi Arabia did not insist that everyone adopt a 10-year time frame, but only that developing countries be given the flexibility to choose between a ten-year and a five year one, with developed countries required to adopt the latter. While one may well wonder why only developing countries are meant to be given this flexibility (could it be because the 5-year Option is recognised as intrinsically better for the planet?), the real question must be whether developing countries are actually interested in having that flexibility; and the answer, judging from the relevant group interventions at the consultation (see below), is most likely negative.

Yet, there are clearly some who would like to be able to choose Option [1]. How can they be accommodated?  Hugh Sealy (Barbados), during the prep-meeting, described [2] as the combination of a 5-year with a ‘rolling’ 10-year time frame (i.e. with overlapping 10-year implementation periods), and is simple to come up with an Option that achieves the same combination for [1], namely:

[1+] communicate a 2035 and a 2040 NDC (and repeat every five years).

Nota bene: Option [1+] is as compatible with the Glasgow Ambition Cycle language (as referred to in the intervention by Colombia on behalf of AILAC, see below) as Option [2], and they do have a common time frame, in the sense of having common end-years for all NDCs.

For more see the Technical Paper on “Common Time Frames Reducing the Options for a Decision in Glasgow” produced for the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), or the kick-off presentation given at the prep-meeting

The Consultation: Opening, Closing, and Group Statements

In his opening statement, Alok Sharma, UK COP 26 President designate, reminded participants that “almost six years have passed since we agreed in Paris to resolve common timeframes, and despite the progress we have still not reached the solution. … after years of negotiations we are familiar with one another’s positions. What we now need to do is to focus on finding solutions and developing consensus, if we are to put the Paris agreement into full operation and keeping 1.5 degrees within reach, as well as, of course, protecting our precious planet.”

He was followed by Marianne Karlsen, Chair of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), who very eloquently reminded participants that: “CTF is central to a well-functioning implementation of the Paris Agreement. For the NDC communication cycle, for accounting, cooperation under Article 6 and the global stock take. But more importantly, CTF enables parties to go together towards a low emission future. In different ways – nationally determined, but with the same rhythm. In that way Parties have the certainty that taking a step forward is not a step you take alone, it’s a step that everyone else will take too. No one can or will deliver on the Paris Agreement alone.”

Eight ministers took the floor after the SBI Chair, and they were followed by position statements of six negotiating groups.

Zimbabwe on behalf of the 55 countries of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) confirmed that “The African Group supports a 5-year common Time frame. This position is a firm one with the view of avoiding lock in of low ambitions. We believe that a 5-year common time frame for NDCs will ensure proper alignment with the 5-year ambition cycle of the Paris agreement and will facilitate clarity, transparency, understanding and aggregation of NDCs. … Accordingly, we strongly encourage that NDCs with a common time frame must be submitted in 2025 and to be implemented from 1st January 2031 to 31st December 2035.”

Australia, on behalf of the 12-country Umbrella Group, briefly took the floor and pointed out that “This is not one of the hardest issues we need resolve, but it is a critical one for us to agree at COP 26.”

He was followed by Bhutan on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group, who told participants that the LDC Group “supports the proposition of communicating by 2025 an NDC with a time frame up to 2035 and to do so every five years thereafter [and that countries] should keep enhancing their NDCs. Taking this into account, LDC Group emphasizes the need of calling the Parties to update their NDCs in 2025 with a time frame up to 2030”.

Saudi Arabia, on behalf of the 22-country Arab Group, began his intervention by acknowledging that CTF is as “critical agenda item that is integral to our collective efforts for implementing the Paris Agreement.” Having indicated that for his Group, “a 10-year period is the most suitable option” he re-iterated their well-known preference for what has been referred to as ‘common-but-differentiated-time-frames’ ,namely: “include flexibility provision for developing countries to choose a time frame …, while developed countries follow the five-year cycle.” He agreed that a decision should be taken in Glasgow, but “only for indices that will be communicated in 2025 for the period from 2031 to the period of 2040.”

He also contended that timeframes “have no bearing on the level of ambition,” a view clearly not shared by Argentina, who spoke also on behalf of Brazil and Uruguay (ABU), who insisted that “It is important to keep in mind that you need to establish a single time frame that is the same for all parties to support ambitious NDCs.” ABU is also of the view that “the adoption of a decision at COP26 is essential for the functioning of the Paris Agreement and the application of the principle of progression. A decision on this topic has a direct impact on the implementation of the Paris Agreement and it is also linked to many arrangements under the Agreement. The CMA should offer guidance to the Parties on the subject, in order to start their domestic processes for preparing the next NDCs.”

Last but by no means least, Colombia made a passionate intervention on behalf of the 8 members of the Asociación Independiente de Latinoamérica y el Caribe (AILAC), pointing out, in particular, that “the different options can integrate a 5-year update cycle of targets for an announced date in order to enhance ambition, using the outputs of the most recent GST and IPCC reports. For 10-year NDCs, the use of overlapping implementation periods can help this alignment. So, the critical issue is that Parties agree on the operational need to stick to the 5 years on both reporting NDC achievements and updating NDC ambition, AS STATED BY THE GLASGOW AMBITION CYCLE. [Sic!]”

As regards ambition, she emphasised that “it is important that the decision requires that all existing NDCs are updated in light of each Global Stocktake to reflect a Party’s highest possible ambition” and concluded that “practically and operationally, agreeing on Common Timeframes that allows ambition to benefit from the Paris Agreement 5-year cycle is not a difficult thing to do. … If we fail to do so in Glasgow, the world will rightly conclude that the COP is not serious about achieving the Paris goals.” In her closing statement, Minister Sommaruga (Switzerland) highlighted what she is taking away from the consultation, and specifically that there are “clear expectations from all Parties to adopt a clear decision on Common Time Frames in Glasgow” and reminded participants of what “Alok Sharma said at the beginning: we need to find solutions and develop consensus.”

What do you mean: ‘Common Time Frame’?

by Benito Müller

This blog post looks at the issue of whether it is in the mandate of the Art. 4.10 negotiations to seek a single common time frame for NDCs. Based on a comparative analysis of the six official UN language texts, the post concludes not only that this is indeed the case, but also that the outcome of these negotiations ought to include the adoption of common end-years for NDCs.

The concept of ‘Common Time Frame’ appears only once in the the Paris Agreement (PA), namely in the Article 4.10 stipulation that “common time frames for nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) shall be considered at the first session of the governing body of the PA. In December 2018, at this first session in Katowice, common time frames were accordingly considered and it  was decided that “Parties shall apply common time frames” to their NDCs to be implemented from 2031 onward (Decision 6/CMA.1), but without any further clarification as to what they might be, indeed without any clarification as to what the key ‘time frame’ concept refers to in this context.

Notwithstanding this ambiguity, or maybe because of it, there has been a heated debate about the mandate of the negotiations under this Article with regard to whether it would be permissible to negotiate a single common time frame, given the article in the English language text refers to ‘time frames’ in the plural.

The aim of this blog post is to try and understand better what Parties actually had in mind in Paris in this context.  For this, it is useful to have a closer look at the official six UN language texts of the Paris Agreement (and its implementing Decision 1/CP21), not only because it stands to reason that Parties would have insisted on changes if they disagreed with the language in their official language texts, but also because these six texts are all to be considered “equally authentic”[Art. 29,PA].

The French Art. 4.10 text, for one, refers to “calendriers communs” (common calendars/schedules/timetables), while the Spanish and Russian texts invoke common deadlines (“los plazos comunes” and “obshchikh srokakh” общих сроках, respectively), which obvioulsy can jointly make up one or several calendries communs.

The Arabic and Chinese texts use direct translations of the two nouns that make up the English compound ‘time frame’, with the Arabic using the plural form “alatir alzamania” الاطر الزمنية (time frames).

The Chinese text allows for both a singular and a plural reading of  “kuàngjià” 框架  (frame), although the juxtaposition with “gòngtóng” 共同 (common) makes the singular reading the more natural one. In any case, the important thing here is that the Chinese text clearly allows both for common time frames and for a common time frame to be considered under the Article.   

One therefore clearly needs to be cautious with basing substantive claims on grammatical form alone:  There was evidently no agreement among Parties in Paris that a single common time frame for NDCs should not be an option. Accordingly it has to be accepted that it is as much part of the mandate of the Art. 4.10 negotiations to develop a single common time frame as it is to adopt a plurality thereof.

The different language texts of the PA also re-confirm two different basic interpretations of the key Art. 4.10 concept, namely a ‘material’ and a ‘procedural’ one: “The material interpretation is about time intervals associated with the NDCs – to be precise, about target periods and implementation periods. The procedural interpretation is about timetables for the processes of communicating and updating NDCs.”[Benito Müller, ‘Common Time Frames’: What & Why? A Contribution to the Debate on Article 4.10 of the Paris Agreement, 2018]

The English compound noun ‘time-frame’ admits both readings (Box 1), while the French, Spanish and Russian texts are anchored in the procedural interpretation.

Box 1. OED Definition

The only substantive use of the concept in the Paris outcome is in paragraphs 23 and 24 of Decision 1/CP21, where it is used to identify Parties with particular types of intended nationally determined contributions (INDC), namely those whose INDC pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2025 (or 2030 respectively).

As such, the content of Decision 1/CP21 would have been exactly the same if paragraphs 23 and 24 had instead referred to Parties whose INDC pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 ends in 2025 (resp. 2030).

What about the (only) other two occurrences of the concept in the Paris outcome, i.e. in paragraph 27 and Article 4.10? Could they have been equally re-expressed by reference to end-years without a change of content?

Consider the Spanish text, where the key concept can be read as being expressed in terms of ‘deadlines’:

  • Para 23 [24]: requests those Parties whose INDC pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 include a deadline up to (“comprenda un plazo hasta”) 2025 [2030].
  • Para 27: Agrees that the information to be provided by Parties … may include … the deadlines  (“los plazos”) and/or periods for implementation …
  • Art. 4.10: shall consider common deadlines for NDCs (“los plazos comunes para las contribuciones determinadas a nivel nacional”).

A simple substitution with a reference to ‘NDC end-years’ would obviously not conserve the meaning of this language, as there are other deadlines associated with NDCs than just their end-years. However, in light of paragraphs 23 and 24, the end-year of NDCs clearly must be one of the deadlines to be considered under Art. 4.10. Given Decision 6/CMA.1, this in turn implies that:

  • Parties shall (inter alia) apply common end-years to their NDCs to be implemented from 2031 onward.

It may well be that not all of the six language texts of the Paris outcome lend themselves to arrive at the same conclusion, but as long as none of the others explicitly contradict it, it can be argued that common NDC end years need to be considered as a legitimate outcome of the Art. 4.10 negotiations.

Acknowledgments: The author would like to express his gratitude for linguistic advice to Mohamed Nasr (Arabic), Marc Sadler and Pascale Müller (Russian), Xing Li and Natalie Chung (Chinese), while claiming responsibility for all remaining mistakes for himself.

Appendix: Decision 1/CP.21. Time Frames

23. Requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2025 to communicate by 2020 a new nationally determined contribution and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement;

24. Also requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2030 to communicate or update by 2020 these contributions and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement;

27. Agrees that the information to be provided by Parties communicating their nationally determined contributions, in order to facilitate clarity, transparency and understanding, may include, as appropriate, inter alia, quantifiable information on the reference point (including, as appropriate, a base year), time frames and/or periods for implementation, scope and coverage, planning processes, assumptions and methodological approaches including those for estimating and accounting for anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and, as appropriate, removals, and how the Party considers that its nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious, in the light of its national circumstances, and how it contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;

A first case for the Compliance Committee of the Paris Agreement – the EU?

Christoph Schwarte, Executive Director, Legal Response International

In his review of the EU climate policy, in the most recent edition of Climate Law, Christoph Schwarte, the executive director of OCP partner organisation LRI, draws attention to the EU’s missing notification under Article 4 of the Paris Agreement.

The European Union (EU) has long sought to play a leadership role in the international climate change negotiations. On 17 December 2020 it updated its joint nationally determined contribution (NDC) on mitigation under the Paris Agreement from at least 40 per cent to at least 55 per cent by 2030 compared to 1990 levels.[1]

To date, the EU and its member states are the only parties to the Paris Agreement that have a joint NDC. Article 4 paragraph 16 of the Paris Agreement specifically provides that parties that have reached agreement on a joint NDC “shall notify the secretariat of the terms of that agreement, including the emission level allocated to each Party with the relevant time period, when they communicate their nationally determined contributions”. As a result, the member states of the EU (or any other economic integration organisation) would be jointly with the EU and severally liable for their individual emission levels (Article 16 para.18).

The EU Decision, approving the Paris Agreement explicitly recognized the need to notify the secretariat of the emission levels allocated to the EU and its member states.[2] The agreements, setting out the individual commitments of member states for the first (2008-2012) and second (2013-2020) commitment periods of the Kyoto Protocol were notified to the secretariat in line with Article 4.2 of the Protocol.[3]

There is a comprehensive legal framework in place to agree, monitor and pursue the individual mitigation targets of EU member states.[4] To reflect the new 55 per cent target the European Commission has already tabled proposals for amending the relevant legislation (e.g. on the EU Emission Trading Scheme and the Effort-Sharing Regulation). So far, however, the EU and its member states have not been able notified the UNFCCC secretariat of the terms of an agreement on their joint NDC, including member states’ emission levels.

So while this notification is missing, are the EU and its member states non-compliant with Article 4.16 of under the Paris Agreement? Yes! Article 4.16 is among the few prescriptive provisions in the Paris Agreement that contains a clear procedural obligation of conduct. But is this also a case for the committee established under Article 15 of the Paris Agreement to facilitate implementation and promote compliance? No, unless the EU “self-refer” the issue to the Committee.[5]

The Committee can consider a party’s compliance on its own initiative in a limited number of cases only: if the party has failed to either communicate or maintain an NDC under Article 4; to submit a mandatory report or communication under the transparency framework of Article 13; to participate in the Facilitative, Multilateral Consideration of Progress; or to communicate mandatory information on finance under Article 9.5.[6] The requirement to notify the secretariat of the terms of a joint NDC is not mentioned at all in the Modalities and procedures for the effective operation of the committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance adopted in Katowice.

So does any of this actually matter to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement? Probably, at least a bit: Article 4.16 ensures a degree of transparency and accountability. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol (Annex B), the Paris Agreement does not list parties’ mitigation targets. Where an agreement to act jointly fails or is prematurely terminated, the prior notification of individual emission levels would provide a degree of clarity (maybe also for future carbon markets) on parties’ responsibilities.

The Paris Agreement is largely built around procedural reporting obligations. To succeed parties will need to take all of the Agreement’s provisions seriously. Non-compliance could weaken its overall structure and the ability to function effectively. Other parties may also decide to develop and submit a joint NDC and the current situation risks setting a precedent for the Agreement’s future implementation and result in different interpretations of parties’ obligations.

So even if the European Union submits the missing notification before long, a formal decision by the COP serving as the meeting of parties to the Agreement (CMA) should therefore, address the issue of the missing notification under Article 4. To clarify the procedural expectations and their relevance in the future implementation of the treaty, such a decision could, for example, invite all parties that act jointly under Article 4.2 to notify the secretariat as soon as they have reached an agreement or, pending the conclusion of such an agreement, provide additional information on the likely outcome of their internal discussion or on the specific problems encountered concluding their deliberations.

For a comprehensive legal analysis of the current EU climate policy see Christoph Schwarte, EU Climate Policy under the Paris Agreement, Climate Law 11 (2021), pp.157-175, 

ecbi Guide to the Paris Agreement App

[1] Germany and the European Commission, on behalf of the EU and its member states, Update of the
NDC of the European Union and its Member States, Berlin, 17 December 2020 available via www4.unfccc.int/sites/ndcstaging/Pages/Home.aspx.

[2] Council of the EU, Decision on the Conclusion, on Behalf of the European Union, of the Paris Agreement Adopted under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, 
(EU) 2016/1841, 5 October 2016.

[3] UNFCCC Secretariat, Note on the Agreement between the European Community and its Member States under Article 4 of the Kyoto Protocol, document FCCC/CP/2002/2, of 12 June 2002, which summarises the process and disseminates the agreement amongst parties. General Secretariat Council of the EU, attachment to Note Verbale, Brussels, 21 December 2017, available at unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/EU_2.pdf.

[4] Commission proposal for amendments supra note 8.

[5] Paris Agreement, decision 20/CMA.1, Annex, Modalities and procedures for the effective operation of the committee referred to in Article 15, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement, para.20.

[6] Paris Agreement, decision 20/CMA.1, Annex sub-paragraph 22 (a) i-iv).

Completing the Paris Ambition Mechanism in Glasgow

Key Message for Policy Makers

The Current Situation

The ‘Ambition Mechanism’ of the Paris Agreement is currently given by two interlocking five-year cycles:

  • A communication cycle: All Parties must communicate a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) every five years (Art. 4.9).
  • A ‘Global Stocktake’ review cycle: To take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and to assess the collective progress towards achieving its purpose (Art.14.1).

The Challenges

Accounting

At present, there are NDCs ending in (“with a time frame up to”) 2025 and others in 2030. Not having the same end-years makes global accounting very difficult, if not impossible. This applies not only to the Global Stocktake, with its backwards review of the state of implementation and its forward assessment of the collective ambition, but also to issues such as the avoidance of double counting in global emission trading (Art.6).

Enhancing Ambition

There are currently no instructions in the Paris Agreement and its rulebook about reconsidering the level of ambition of one’s NDCs once they have been communicated, other than an acknowledgment that Parties can enhance the level of ambition, if they wish to do so (Art.4.11)

This is sub-optimal because Parties are unlikely to ‘spontaneously’ enhance the ambition of their previously communicated NDCs on their own – or at least not as much as they would be willing and able to in coordination with their international partners and competitors, and such a coordinated ambition enhancement requires an advance notification of the initially proposed levels of ambition

The Solution

Addressing these challenges requires:

  • a single universal Common Time Frame, i.e. simultaneous end years for all NDCs;
  • a sufficient advance notification of NDCs;
  • a timetable for regular consideration of enhancing the level of ambition of previously communicated NDCs.

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle

All this can be provided by adopting the following very simple Decision – to complete the Ambition Mechanism of the Paris Agreement in Glasgow: The CMA

  • requests Parties to communicate by 2025 a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035, and to do so every five years thereafter;
  • also requests Parties to consider in 2025 updating/adjusting their existing nationally determined contributions with a view to enhancing levels of ambition, and to do so every five years thereafter.

A more comprehensive version of this decision text is provided in the GAC blog:

This post is taken from a Technical Paper produced by OCP/ecbi for the Alliance of Small Island States.

2 ‘update’ or not 2 ‘update’ every 5 years, that is the Q4

Some comments on the informal consultations on Common Time Frames (CTF) in the recent session of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI)

by Benito Müller

The Guiding Questions

The substantive work on this SBI agenda item began on 10 June promisingly with the presentation of the following four guiding questions by the co-facilitators, Kishan Kumarsingh (Trinidad and Tobago) and Andrew Rakestraw (US):

The aim of this blog is to respond on the basis of the Glasgow Ambition Cycle (GAC) proposal to some comments that were made during that consultation.

In its most detailed version (with explanatory comments in square brackets) the GAC is given as follows: The CMP

  1. requests Parties to communicate by 2025 inter alia a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035, and to do so every five years thereafter, in line with Art. 4.9 [five-yearly communications];
  2. also requestParties to consider in 2025 adjusting their existing nationally determined contributions with a view to enhancing its level of ambition in line with Art. 4.11, as well as Art. 2.2 [Equity], Art. 4.3 [Progression], and Art. 4.9 [informed by the outcomes of the relevant global stocktake] of the Paris Agreement, and to do so every five years thereafter.

The relevant Paris Agreement Articles(pertinent language highlighted in italics)

  • Art. 4.11. A Party may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement
  • Art. 2.2. This Agreement will b implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.t
  • Art. 4.3. Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.
  • Art. 4.9. Each Party shall communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years in accordance with decision 1/CP21 and any relevant decisions of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to this Agreement and be informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake referred to in Article 14.

I. Q1 to Q3

The discussion of the first three guiding questions revealed that the proposed language of the GAC may have to be strengthened with a stipulation that post 2030, the time frames of successive NDCs are to be five years apart, namely 2035, 2040, 2045, and so on.

It also exposed a possible mis-reading of para. 1 of the GAC as implying that Parties can only communicate a 2035 NDC in 2025. This is not the case: Parties could also communicate a second, or indeed a third NDC by 2025 and be GAC compliant, provided the first one ends in 2035, and the others in 2040 and 2045, respectively, as reflected by the ‘inter alia’ in para. 1 of the GAC language.

II. Q4

What was surprising, at least to me, in the context of the fourth guiding question was the almost allergic reaction of some participants to the very concept of ‘updating’. Two reservations in particular caught my attention.

1.1 What ‘updating’?

The question arose of what exactly ‘updating’ means. First of all, it needs to be high-lighted that, while it does not occur in the Paris Agreement itself, the term is part of the Paris terminology (cf. para. 24 Decision 1/CP.21). Second, I think there is a common understanding that, in good faith, it means to re-communicate an existing NDC with its ambition enhanced.

Accordingly, it is not a new form of communication of NDCs: Updated NDCs are communicated like all the others. Nor does a cosmetic change (e.g. through the provision of new information) satisfies the term in this good faith reading.

1.2. Introducing perverse incentives for ‘gaming’?

It has also been said that to introduce a regular invitation to ‘update’ might create ‘perverse incentives’ and lead to ‘gaming’ as regards to the ambition one is willing to communicate.

First of all, it needs to be stressed that this could only occur if we assume the above-mentioned good-faith interpretation of ‘updating’: for someone who interprets ‘updating’ as, say, the provision of additional information only, there is no incentive to game with regard to ambition.

The perverse incentive, I take it,  is meant to be that a Party which could take on a target of  x would be tempted initially to communicate a less stringent target (x+y) so when asked to update they could ‘update’ this back to x. Consider the situation illustrated in Fig. 1: Let’s say some Parties have determined that the maximum they can contribute is 100 which, when there is no request for regular updating, they proceed to communicate at T1. If they are expected to update regularly, the gaming argument goes, they would communicate instead a less ambitious target, say 125, in order to be able to ‘reduce’ something in the next communication round at T2 (in the same way in which some retailers may artificially inflate the original price, so as to be able to provide a ‘discount’ in the next sale).

Now, let us assume that by T2 it is indeed the case that the situation has not changed and they can still only contribute 100. What will therefore happen in T2? In the scenario without a request for regular updating, the NDCs remain unchanged at 100. If there is regular updating, they can now ‘update’ the NDCs originally communicated in T1 by increasing their ambition from 125 to 100. In short, ambition-wise, the end result in T2 is the same with or without the request for regular updating.

It is however not the same if one considers that the request for regular updates allows Parties to raise ambition together simultaneously, which I strongly believe results in greater overall ambition than the status quo, where Parties are left to enhance ambition ‘spontaneously’ on their own. For more on this, see:

Click image to read the post, in particular the sections on “Locking in of low ambition due to a lack of an updating time table” and “Combining the advantages of Plan A and Plan B while avoiding their shortcomings”

In short, I do not believe there really is cause rejecting a request for regular updating on these grounds. However, it would also not be wise to let oneself become a hostage to fortune for purely terminological reasons. This is why para. 2 of the GAC proposal only uses agreed Paris Agreement language.

Common Time Frames — Synthesising the Options for a Decision in Glasgow

Background

It has become increasingly clear over the past 18 months since COP 25 in Madrid that the Parties to the Paris Agreement are intent on finishing the negotiations on ‘common time frames for nationally determined contributions referred to in Article 4, paragraph 10, of the Paris Agreement’ at COP 26 in Glasgow. Indeed, the UK COP 26 Presidency has made this one of their top three priorities regarding the completion of the Paris Rule Book in Glasgow.

At present, there are ten options – listed in an Options Note published at the end of COP 25 in Madrid – under consideration. The question, as raised by a growing number of Parties in the course of recent informal consultations, now is: how can this multitude be whittled down to a smaller more manageable number (preferably just one) of revised (‘synthesis’) options without losing the support of the proponents of original ones.

To do this, this blog post looks at the ‘action content’–  i.e. the concrete instructions (if any) they contain on who is meant to do what, when and with regard to which NDC (identified by the time-frame/end-year) – of these proposals with the aim to demonstrate that what has become known as the ‘Glasgow Ambition Cycle’ (GAC)[1] can serve as an overarching synthesis option, delivering the advantages of all the Madrid options, without suffering their shortcomings.

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle:

  1. Request Parties to communicate by 2025a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035, and to do so every five years thereafter, pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement
  2. Also request Parties to consider in 2025 updating any nationally determined contributions communicated before, and to do so every five years thereafter

But before turning to accomplish this, a few words on the historical background of this issue.

At COP 21 in Paris (2015), it was agreed that the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) “shall consider common time frames for nationally determined contributions at its first session”[Art. 4.10]. In Marrakech, the year after, the CMA agreed to refer the matter to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) which, in 2017 in Bonn (SBI 47), “invited Parties and observers to submit, by 31 March 2018, their views on common time frames for NDCs … including on, but not limited to, the usefulness of and options for common time frames and the advantages and disadvantages of those options, for consideration at SBI 48 (April–May 2018)”[SBI 47 conclusions].

By May 2018, 15 Parties had made submissions, which were analyzed in an OCP/ecbi Discussion Note (see below), but the SBI deliberations didn’t progress beyond List of Bullet points by the co-facilitators (SBI.48.2, September 2019).

The first, and hitherto only decision on the matter was taken at CMA.1 in Katowice when it was decided “that Parties shall apply common time frames to their nationally determined contributions to be implemented from 2031 onward”(Decision 6/CMA.1). 

SBI.50 (June 2019) resulted in an informal note listing 6 options, which was picked up and expanded to 10 options at SBI.51 in Madrid (December 2019), where however the deliberations were rolled over under Rule 16 and have not been taken up since due to the COVID pandemic.[2]

What did take place since then was an Informal and a Technical Dialogue in November 2020, and an Informal Consultation of heads of delegations by the COP Presidencies in April 2021, all of which pointing to a desire by Parties to settle this issue at COP 26 in Glasgow, and consequently, to reduce the number of options that are currently under consideration.

What Timeframes?

One of the key obstacles to progress in the CTF negotiations has been that Parties do not have a common understanding on what ‘timeframe’ actually refers to, let alone what it is to have a ‘common timeframe’.

In June 2018, OCP published an in-depth analysis of this situation on the basis of the Party submissions requested at SBI.47 (Müller 2018.a). It showed that Parties were essentially using two types of interpretations of ‘timeframe’: a material- and a procedural one. The material interpretation is about time intervals associated with the NDCs – to be precise, about target- and implementation periods, and mostly involves references to their lengths. The procedural interpretation is about timetables for the processes of communicating and updating NDCs.

Subsequent work based on this analysis (listed below in Selected Publications) did suggest a way to “synthesise” CTF proposals, such as the ones contained in the SBI.50 Options Note, by describing their specific action content, that is to say the concrete instructions they contain with regards to who does what, when and with respect to which NDC (as identified by its endpoint[3]).

The paradigm formulation of this type of specific action content is given in paragraphs 23 and 24 of Decision 1/CP.21, and the same language is used in formulating the Glasgow Ambition Cycle proposal to be discussed in the next section as synthesising these two paragraphs into a single common time frame proposal in a way which preserves the advantages of both while avoiding the disadvantages of either:

Decision 1/CP.21 (Adoption of the Paris Agreement):

23.  Requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2025 to communicate by 2020 a new nationally determined contribution and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement

24.  Also requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2030 to communicate or update by 2020 these contributions and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement

Analysis of SBI.51 Options

Turning now to analysing the proposals listed in the SBI.50 Options Note (appended below) with regard to their specific action content, the first thing that needs to be highlighted is that not all of them actually have this sort of specific action content: Neither Option 1 nor Option 4 contain references to specific NDCs or communication/updating years. As reflected in Table 1, the others do contain information as to who is meant to do what, when, and with respect to which NDC.[4]

Table 1 clearly shows that:

  • Option 9 has the same action content as Option 2, and
  • Option 8 the same as Option 10 (namely the communication procedure of the GAC).

Given that with respect to action content, Option 3 covers Option 6, and Option 5 is covered by Option 2, there are really only three distinct Options in the SBI.51 Note with respect to actions they refer to, namely Options 2, 3, and 7 (with their action content graphically represented in Tables 2, 3, and 4, respectively).

Option 2:

  1. Decides that common time frames … shall be five years between the end points of two successive NDCs.
  2. Further decides that Parties should communicate two successive nationally determined contributions, starting in 2025, with starting points of 1 January 2031 and 1 January 2036 respectively and ending in 2040.
  3. Urges Parties
    1. to communicate and update their nationally determined contributions in 2025 and every five years thereafter, consistent with progression.
    1. to communicate by 2025 a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035 or 2040 including an indicative waypoint in years ending in 0 and 5.

Option 3 (‘Continue-with-Status-Quo’ Option):

  1. Invites each Party to communicate by 2025 a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035 or 2040.
  2. Requests:
  3. those Parties whose nationally determined contributions contain a time frame up to 2035 to communicate by 2030 their respective new nationally determined contributions with a time frame up to 2040; and
  4. those Parties whose nationally determined contributions contain a time frame up to 2040 to communicate or update by 2030 these nationally determined contributions.

Table 3.a illustrates the action content of Option 3, and Table 3.b illustrates at first sight that Option 3 is simply the continuation of the status quo as prescribed in §23 and §24 of Decision 1/CP.21.

Option 7.

Sub-option 7.1

  • Agrees that the NDCs referred above will have a time frame up to 2035.
  • Parties may further include an [indicative] 2040 target.

Sub-option 7.2

  • Agrees that the NDCs referred above will have a time frame up to 2035 or 2040
  • Should a Party communicate a NDC with a time frame up to 2040, such a Party shall include an [indicative] 2035 target [and][or] adjust its NDC by 2030.

Sub-option 7.3

Agrees that the NDCs referred above will have a time frame up to 2040.

Table D shows that sub-option 7.1 is the same as §23 (Table C) with the addition of optional indicative (+5) targets, and sub-option 7.2 the same as Option 3 (with mandated additional indicative mid-term targets for §24 Parties). Sub-option 7.3, finally, is the §24 (Option 3.2) without the updating.

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle

Introduction

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle is a proposal with a pedigree reaching beck to before Paris (see Müller et al. 2014). It first appeared in its current formulation it first appeared in an eponymous OCP blog post:

  • Request Parties to communicate by 2025a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035, and to do so every five years thereafter, pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement
  • Also request Parties to consider in 2025 updating any nationally determined contributions communicated before, and to do so every five years thereafter.

Table E illustrates not only the ‘core’ application of the GAC instructions (GAC.1) with just one new NDC being communicated in each round, but also variations (‘versions’) with additional actions:

Thus, in variation (1+i), an ‘indicative 2040 target’ (ind-T) is included in the 2025 communication; while GAC.2 includes the communication of an second NDC with a time frame up to 2040.[5]

While nothing in the GAC formulation prohibits these additional actions, it needs to be stressed that they are optional and not required by the GAC language.

Prerequisites for Maximizing Ambition

In order to discuss and compare the action content of SBI.51 options and that of the GAC – in particular with respect to their capacity to support the enhancement of (nationally determined) ambition – we need to clarify, what it is for an option to contain a ‘common’ time frame in this action specific context.

For the action content of proposal to enhance the impact of the Global Stock Takes and ensure comparability of ambition, it must involve synchronous NDC end-years, in the sense of all NDCs having the same end-years, which is what we mean by ‘having a common timeframe.’

If one is also intent on maximizing the potential for enhancing ambition, then it has been shown[6] that there is also a need for

  • synchronised updating (ambition enhancement), and
  • a notification window – i.e. the time between the communication year and the end year of the preceding NDC – for (first-time) communications of at least 5 years, in order maximize the potential of the synchronised ambition enhancement.

The GAC as Synthesis Option

As Table F clearly illustrates, all four options under consideration here have notification windows of at least 5 years.

However, only the GAC and (sub-) Options 7.1 and 7.3 have a CTF in the above-mentioned sense: the status quo Option 3 clearly allows for some Parties to have NDC end years not which others don’t (2025, 35, 45,…), and the situation is not remedied by introducing a (indicative) target in those ‘mid-term’ years (Options 2 and 7.2)

Table F also illustrates the way in which the GAC variations and SBI.51 (sub-) options under consideration (2, 3, 7) are included in each other:

  • The basic GAC activities, illustrated in (GAC.1) turn into the GAC.1+i procedure by adding a ‘+5 indicative target’, which in in the case of GAC.2 is replaced by a full ‘+5 NDC’.
  • The relationship between the SBI.51 sub-options and the GAC variations is graphically illustrated in the rows of Table F: sub-option 7.3, for example, is transformed into 2.b/3.b/7.2.b by adding an indicative mid-term target to the initial communication, and a mid-term update of the communicated NDCs.

Following the line of argument in Müller and Kumarsingh (2020), it follows that the GAC proposal is flexible enough to harness the advantages of all the Madrid while avoiding their disadvantages.


[1] Fore more on the features and background of the GAC see the list of selected literature below.

[2] Rule 16 Any item of the agenda of an ordinary session, consideration of which has not been completed at the session, shall be included automatically in the agenda of the next ordinary session, unless otherwise decided by the Conference of the Parties.”[Draft Rule of Procedures]

[3] There are many diverse conceptions of the nature of target periods and periods of implementation of a particular NDC, but in practice, they always have the same end-year, which is why they can be identified by reference to this end year, as is the case in para. 23 and 24: ‘containing a time frame up YYYY’ means, in practice, the same as ‘ending in YYYY’.

[4] ‘YYYY NDC’ = ‘NAC with end-year YYYY’ = ‘NDC containing a time frame up to YYYY’

[5] For more on this version, see ‘The case of the European Union’ in Müller, B., C. Bhushan and X. Li (2021), ‘The Glasgow Ambition Cycle – Domestic Considerations‘, Oxford Climate Policy, 16 March 2021.

[6] See, for example, Müller, B., and K. Kumarsingh (2020), ‘The risks of not adopting a Paris Agreement Ambition Cycle at COP 26 in Glasgow‘, Oxford Climate Policy, August 2020


Common Time Frames: Reducing the Number of Options for Glasgow

Aim and Background

This blog post aims to suggest a way in which whittle down the multitude of proposals concerning a Common Time Frame (CTF) for the Paris Agreement to a more manageable number without losing the key features of the originals.

For this, the post considers the different ways in which the existing proposals have been described and proposes a conceptual scheme not only to make them comparable, but synthesise them into smaller number of ‘synthesis options’ – preferably with all the advantages but none of the disadvantages of the originals. Indeed, the post aims to demonstrate that the Glasgow Ambition Cycle is a synthesis option that captures all the proposal in that manner.

But before turning to accomplish this, a few words on the historical background of this issue.

At COP 21 in Paris (2015), it was agreed that the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) “shall consider common time frames for nationally determined contributions at its first session”[Art. 4.10]. In Marrakech, the year after, the CMA agreed to refer the matter to the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) which, in 2017 in Bonn (SBI 47), “invited Parties and observers to submit, by 31 March 2018, their views on common time frames for NDCs … including on, but not limited to, the usefulness of and options for common time frames and the advantages and disadvantages of those options, for consideration at SBI 48 (April–May 2018)”[SBI 47 conclusions].

By May 2018, 15 Parties had made submissions, which were analyzed in an OCP/ecbi Discussion Note (see below), but the SBI deliberations didn’t progress beyond List of Bullet points by the co-facilitators (SBI.48.2, September 2019). 

The first, and hitherto only decision on the matter was taken at CMA.1 in Katowice when it was decided “that Parties shall apply common time frames to their nationally determined contributions to be implemented from 2031 onward”(Decision 6/CMA.1).  

SBI.50 (June 2019) resulted in an informal note listing 6 options, which was picked up and expanded to 10 options at SBI.51 in Madrid (December 2019), where however the deliberations were rolled over under Rule 16 and have not been taken up since due to the COVID pandemic. What did take place since then was a Technical Dialogue in November 2020, and an Informal Consultation of heads of delegations by the COP Presidencies in April 2021, all of which pointing to a desire by Parties to settle this issue at COP 26 in Glasgow, and consequently, to reduce the number of options that are currently under consideration.

This paper will focus on the 6 options contained in the SBI.50 Options Note. The full set the SBI.51 will be discussed in a forthcoming Technical Paper produced by OCP as strategic partner of AOSIS.

What Timeframes?

One of the key obstacles to progress in the CTF negotiations has been that Parties do not have a common understanding on what ‘timeframe’ actually refers to, let alone what it is to have a ‘common timeframe’.

In June 2018, OCP published an in-depth analysis of this situation on the basis of the Party submissions requested at SBI.47 (Müller 2018.a). It showed that Parties were essentially using two types of interpretations of ‘timeframe’: a material- and a procedural one. The material interpretation is about time intervals associated with the NDCs – to be precise, about target- and implementation periods, and mostly involves references to their lengths. The procedural interpretation is about timetables for the processes of communicating and updating NDCs. 

Subsequent work based on this analysis (listed below in Selected Publications) did suggest a way to “synthesise” CTF proposals, such as the ones contained in the SBI.50 Options Note, by describing their specific action content, that is to say the concrete instructions they contain with regards to who does what, when and with respect to which NDC (as identified by its endpoint).

The paradigm formulation of this type of specific action content is given in paragraphs 23 and 24 of Decision 1/CP.21, and the same language is used in formulating the Glasgow Ambition Cycle proposal to be discussed in the next section as synthesising these two paragraphs into a single common time frame proposal in a way which preserves the advantages of both while avoiding the disadvantages of either:

Decision 1/CP.21 (Adoption of the Paris Agreement):

23. Requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2025 to communicate by 2020 a new nationally determined contribution and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement

24. Also requests those Parties whose intended nationally determined contribution pursuant to decision 1/CP.20 contains a time frame up to 2030 to communicate or update by 2020 these contributions and to do so every five years thereafter pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement

Analysis of SBI.50 Options

Turning now to analyzing the proposals listed in the SBI.50 Options Note (appended below) with regard to their specific action content, the first thing that needs to be highlighted is that not all of them actually have this sort of specific action content: Neither Option 1 nor Option 4 contain references to specific NDCs or communication/updating years. As reflected in Table 1, the others do contain information as to who is meant to do what, when, and with respect to which NDC.

Given that with respect to action content, Option 3 covers Option 6, and Option 5 is covered by Option 2, there are really only two distinct Options in the SBI.50 Note with respect to actions they refer to, namely Options 2 and 3 (with their action content graphically represented in Tables 2 and 3, respectively).

Option 2:

  • Decides that common time frames … shall be five years between the end points of two successive NDCs.
  • Further decides that Parties should communicate two successive nationally determined contributions, starting in 2025, with starting points of 1 January 2031 and 1 January 2036 respectively.
  • Urges Parties to communicate and update their nationally determined contributions in 2025 and every five years thereafter, consistent with progression.

Option 3 (= continue with status quo):

  • Invites each Party to communicate by 2025 a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035 or 2040.
  • Requests:
  1. those Parties whose nationally determined contributions contain a time frame up to 2035 to communicate by 2030 their respective new nationally determined contributions with a time frame up to 2040; and
  2. those Parties whose nationally determined contributions contain a time frame up to 2040 to communicate or update by 2030 these nationally determined contributions.

Table 3.a illustrates the action content of Option 3, and Table 3.b illustrates at first sight that Option 3 is simply the continuation of the status quo as prescribed in §23 and §24 of Decision 1/CP.21. 

The GAC as Synthesis Option

Introduction

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle is a proposal with a pedigree reaching beck to before Paris (see Müller et al. 2014). It first appeared in its current formulation it first appeared in an eponymous OCP blog post

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle:

  1. Request Parties to communicate by 2025 a nationally determined contribution with a time frame up to 2035, and to do so every five years thereafter, pursuant to Article 4, paragraph 9, of the Agreement
  2. Also request Parties to consider in 2025 updating any nationally determined contributions communicated before, and to do so every five years thereafter

Table 4.a illustrates the minimal action content of the GAC. Table 4.b illustrates a slightly more For more on this variant, elaborate variant, with an additional (first) communication of a 2040 NDC in 2025. Nothing in the GAC forbids such an addition, but it is important to stress that this addition is purely voluntary and not required by the GAC language.

Prerequisites for Maximizing Ambition

In order to discuss and compare the action content of SBI.50 options and the GAC, in particular with respect to their capacity to support the enhancement of (nationally determined) ambition, we need to clarify, in this action specific context, what it is for an option to contain a ‘common’ time frame.

For the action content of proposal to enhance the impact of the Global Stock Takes and ensure comparability of ambition, it must involve synchronous NDC end-years, in the sense that all NDCs having the same end-years, which is what we mean by ‘having a common timeframe’.

If one is also intent on maximizing the potential for enhancing ambition, then it has been shown that there is also a need for

  • synchronised updating (ambition enhancement), and
  • a notification window – i.e. the time between the communication year and the end year of the preceding NDC – for (first-time) communications of at least 5 years, in order maximize the potential of the synchronised ambition enhancement.

Conclusion

Table 5 clearly illustrates that all three options under consideration here have notification windows of at least 5 years, and – except the status quo Option 3 – they do have a common timeframe in the above-mentioned sense. Table 5 also illustrates the way in which the GAC captures (subsumes) the other two: 

Option 2 is exactly the same as the second GAC variant discussed above (Table 4.b).

As to Option 3, Table 5 shows that: 

  1. (the basic variant of) the GAC both captures the action content of the §23 sub-Option 3.a and enhances its ambition friendliness by adding the element of synchronised updating; and 
  2. how the §24 sub-Option 3.b is contained in the GAC.b variant.

In light of this and the finding of a recent OCP Blog Post (summarised below) that the GAC not only preserves all the advantages of §24 while at the same time avoiding all its disadvantages, this finding can now be transferred to all the options (with action content) currently under consideration (i.e. listed in the SBI.50 Note)  

Selected Publications

Reverse chronological order.

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle — Domestic Considerations

The case of India, of China, and of the European Union

by Benito Müller[1] (EU), Chandra Bhushan[2] (India), and Xin Li[3] (China)[4]

Political Summary

Two 5-year cycles currently drive the implementation of the Paris Agreement (PA): one of communicating national targets (“Nationally Determined Contributions” NDCs) and one of taking stock of global efforts. In order to complete the ambition mechanism of the PA, which is critical for its full operationalisation and the achievement of its objectives, another 5-year cycle, the “Glasgow Ambition Cycle” (GAC), aimed at ratcheting up the collective ambition of NDCs, has been proposed. It is gaining significant traction and appeal for adoption at COP 26 in Glasgow under negotiations on Common Time Frames (CTF, see Ambition Cycle on course to land in Glasgow).  The GAC provides an elegant and non-controversial solution to the sticking options currently being negotiated, and is meant to start in 2025 when countries would be requested to:

  • communicate (at least) a 2035 NDC (‘with a time frame up to 2035’);
  • re-visit any NDCs communicated earlier to see whether, in light of changed circumstances, their ambition could be increased; and
  • repeat these two steps, ceteris paribus, every five years – thus in 2030 they would be: communicating a 2040 NDC and revisiting (inter alia) the 2035 NDC communicated five years earlier, and so forth.

As recently remarked by Marianne Karlsen (Chair of the UNFCCC/PA Subsidiary Body for Implementation): “Parties are increasingly realizing the importance of the issue [CTF] to the overall dynamics and well-functioning of the Paris Agreement. Of course, it is important to keep in mind that CTF is very much a political issue because establishing timeframes often involves parliaments and cabinets. So, this has to be something that politicians also need to get on the radar to work with.”[5]

This is why this OCP blog post takes a look at domestic considerations and demonstrates that the GAC is flexible enough to be accommodated and workable in three key Parties: India, China and the European Union.

India. India has a well-established revolving five-year electricity planning cycle consisting of Electric Power Surveys (EPS) and National Electricity Plans (NEP). The Surveys involve annual demand projections for the next ten years as well as long-term (‘perspective’) projections for 15- and 20-year time horizons. The Plans contain a detailed growth strategy, including investments in generation, transmission, and distribution, for the next five years and the roadmap for the subsequent five years.

The 20th EPS, to be published in 2022, will contain yearly projections of electricity demand till 2030 and long-term projections for 2035 and 2040. The 4th NEP will be available in 2023; it will contain a detailed plan for 2022-27 and a perspective plan for 2027-32. As the electricity sector is the single largest source of GHG emissions in India, accounting for 47 per cent of the country’s total emissions, its planning cycle can be argued to be already in conformity with the GAC, and therefore in principle, the GAC can be accommodated in India’s NDC communication cycle, given the information in the 20th EPS/4th NEP.

China. China’s overall socio-economic development policy in the first half of the 21st century is dominated by two ‘Centenary Goals’; these mark the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 and the centenary of the People’s Republic in 2049. As the mid-point between these two centenaries, 2035 has received special attention in China’s current policy making. The deliberations for the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) include, for the first time, a longer-term vision with a 2035 target, which will set the development pathways for the next 15 years. This combination of short-term and long-term targets in China’s policy making is significant for global climate policy, not least because it is perfectly consistent with the proposed Glasgow Ambition Cycle.

The European Union. A key domestic consideration in the EU for determining the timeframe of climate targets is that implementing legislation can take up to 5 years to be adopted. The 2020 communication of a 2030 NDC update shows that a 2025 communication of a 2035 NDC should (in principle) be possible, even if a 2040 timeframe remains the preferred option among some of the key domestic constituents. Given that the Paris Agreement does not preclude the communication of multiple NDCs, there is no need to choose between the two options: the EU can communicate both a 2035 and a 2040 NDC in 2025, and thus take into account all domestic preferences and do so in a manner consistent with the Glasgow Ambition Cycle. The communication of a 2035 in order to facilitate a harmonisation of the GAC should not be seen as a mutually exclusive option, but rather a demonstration of political flexibility that will not prejudice the substantive essence of the EU’s overall ambition. 

The Case of India: Electric Power Surveys and National Electricity Plans

India has an elaborate system for developing a National Electricity Plan every five years.[6] This system has been codified by an act of parliament – the Electricity Act of 2003 (‘the Act’). The Act obligates the Central Electricity Authority to formulate policies and plans for the development of the electricity sector, and to conduct and publish an Electric Power Survey (EPS) every five years to forecast both the country’s electricity demand and the contribution of various sources of electricity to meet that demand. The Act also stipulates the preparation of a National Electricity Plan (NEP) every five years, in accordance with India’s National Electricity Policy.

The EPS forecasts, every five years, the electricity demand for the entire country and for each State and Union Territory in the short, medium, and long term. Year-wise electricity demand projections are made for the next ten years, while long-term (perspective) demand projections are carried out for 15- and 20-year time horizons. So far, nineteen EPS have been published, the latest one in January 2017. 

The 20th EPS will be published in 2022. It will contain:

  • Annual electricity demand projections for each State, Union Territory, Region, and All India in detail for the years 2021 to 2031 (see figure above);[7]
  • Electricity demand for the terminal years 2036 and 2041.

The NEP contains a five-year detailed plan and a 15-year perspective plan. It includes:

  • Short-term and long-term demand forecast for different regions;
  • Suggested areas/locations for capacity additions in generation and transmission, keeping in view the economics of generation and transmission, losses in the system, load centre requirements, grid stability, security of supply, quality of power (including voltage profile, etc.), and environmental considerations including rehabilitation and resettlement;
  • Integration of possible locations of capacity additions with the transmission system and development of the national grid – including the type of transmission systems and requirement of redundancies;
  • Different technologies available for efficient generation, transmission, and distribution; and,
  • Fuel choices based on economy, energy security, and environmental considerations.

The latest (Third) NEP was published in January 2018. It contains a review of the previous five-years (2012-17), a detailed plan for the next five years (2017-22), and a perspectives plan for 2022-27. 

The Fourth National Electricity Plan will be available in 2023. It will contain a detailed plan for 2022-27 and a perspective plan for 2027-32.

From the above, it is clear that a revolving five-year planning cycle for the electricity sector is well-established in the country. As the electricity sector is the single largest source of GHG emissions in India (accounting for 47 per cent of the country’s total emissions, including LULUCF[8]), its planning cycle could become a basis for India’s NDC communication cycle.

The Case of China: Enhanced Five-Year Planning

At the 15th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 1997, President Jiang Zemin introduced two ‘Centenary Goals’ to guide the socio-economic development in China. The first goal refers to the centenary, in 2021, of the founding of the CCP, with the Centenary Goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects; the second one referring to the centenary, in 2049, of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, with the goal for China to become a basically modern socialist country.

At the 19th CPC National Congress in 2017, President Xi Jinping brought forward this goal to 2035 as a new mid-term goal, with the second Centenary Goal changing to China becoming fully modernized by 2050.

Three years later, in October 2020, President Xi Jinping introduced, for the first time, a longer-term vision – a 2035 development target – in the course of the discussions on the 14th Five-Year Plan (2021-25) at the 19th meeting of the CPC Central Committee.

This new combination of short-term and longer-term targets in China’ policy making is significant not only for China’s carbon emissions peaking and carbon-neutrality targets, but also for the international climate regime. 

At the time of writing, some provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities have published their 14th FYP and 2035 long-term policy recommendations. Among these, the important mid- and long-term policy goals related to climate change include (but are not limited to): clarifying the carbon emissions peaking action plan, limiting coal use, increasing the share of renewable energy sources in the energy mix, promoting the intelligence and digitalization of energy development models, and developing green financial service systems. These targets will become the backbone of climate policy making at regional levels in the near future.

Since the formulation of its first five-year plan 70 years ago, China has completed thirteen FYPs, and FYPs will continue to provide guidance to the socio-economic development in China, despite debates on the effectiveness of such administrative economic planning. FYPs fit well with the proposed Glasgow Ambition Cycle, particularly in conjunction with the new longer-term 2035 planning horizon.

In short, the establishment of the 2035 target enables China to play an important role in international climate change negotiations. This is crucial for the ability of China’s own adaptive measures to engage with climate change impacts domestically, and also for the joint efforts of the international community to combat climate change. Combining the carbon emissions peaking and carbon-neutrality timelines, China has the opportunity to demonstrate its contribution to climate change mitigation and also its leadership, in the near future.

The Case of the EU: The Issue of Implementing Legislation

The Glasgow Ambition Cycle crucially requires the communication of a 2035 NDC by 2025. Could this be a realistic option for the EU? A practical way to assess possibilities is to look at precedents – in this case at EU past communications under the Paris Agreement (PA).

On 6 March 2015 (see Table 1 below), the EU communicated their Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) with a ‘point target’ of emissions in 2030 being at least 40 per cent below 1990 levels, which became its initial NDC on 5 October 2016, when the EU ratified the PA.

This was based on an EU-wide emission trajectory with annual figures from 2021 to 2030, formulated and adopted by EU heads of government in 2014. The subsequent formulation and adoption of the legislation required for implementing the 40 per cent target took almost five years, beginning in July 2015 and ending in December 2020 with the setting of the final 40 per cent target trajectory.

In March 2020, the Commission promulgated the European Climate Law [ECL], which not only mandates the EU to be ‘climate-neutral’ by 2050, but also “proposes the adoption of a 2030-2050 EU-wide trajectory for greenhouse gas emission reductions”[ECL], and five-yearly assessments of “the consistency of EU and national measures with the climate-neutrality objective and the 2030-2050 trajectory”[ECL], synchronized with the Global Stocktakes of the Paris Agreement.

On 19 June 2020, Croatia and the Commission made a ‘Voluntary Submission‘ to the UNFCCC (on behalf of the EU and its Member States) regarding the ‘Future of the UNFCCC process.’ The submission left no doubt whatsoever that “The ambition cycle built upon the global stocktake and the regular submission of NDCs and adaptation communications, … will be the central feature in driving enhanced climate action and support so as to achieve the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement.”  Indeed, it stipulates that the “UNFCCC process needs to maximise its catalysing role for climate action and ambition” and that the “success of the UNFCCC process should be measured by its ability … to catalyse higher ambition”.  We could not agree more with this and the need to put “the ambition cycle … at the centre of the UNFCCC process”, except that the capacity of the ‘ambition cycle’ to maximise ambition is not fully realised without the addition of the GAC.

On 17 December 2020, the EU communicated an update of their initial NDC with a new, more ambitious target of at least 55 per cent below the 1990 level for 2030 emissions and – according to the EU Climate Action Progress Report, November 2020 (see also Figure 1) – the Commission is currently determining the annual emissions allocations (AEAs) for each country for the years 2021 – 2030, to take into account the updated, more ambitious, 2030 target.

Figure 1. Emissions in sectors covered by effort-sharing legislation 2005-2030 and Annual Emission Allocations (AEAs), EU-27 (Mt CO2 eq) [Fig. 4 in Climate Action Progress Report 2020]

What is to happen next? In a first instance, new implementing legislation for the 55 per cent target will have to be adopted, and it is expected that this will take (at least) until 2024, which means that in practice the implementation of the updated 55 per cent NDC is unlikely to commence before 2025.

Box 1. Draft by the European Council for the implementing regulation of the ECL (12 December 2020)

Assuming the adoption of the ECL by 2022, the next milestone will be the first of the ECL-mandated assessments in 2023. Following the pattern seen in the run up to the 2015 communication of the (I)NDC, it stands to reason – not least on the basis of the position of the European Council (see Box 1) – that this will be followed by the formulation and adoption of a second ten-year trajectory (2031-40, see Figure 2), presumably based on the 2050 net-zero trajectory mandated in the ECL. 

Figure 2. EU Domestic and Paris Agreement Cycles

According to Art. 4.9 of the PA, all Parties have to communicate an NDC in 2025. The key question in the present context is about what timeframes the EU could realistically consider in light of domestic considerations?

One of the key domestic constraints, the time it takes to adopt the required implementing legislation (up to 5 years, as mentioned above), for one rules out another update of the 2030 NDC.

Given the INDC precedent, one option clearly is the communication of a 2040 NDC. But, to be sure, the 2020 communication of the updated 2030 NDC equally provides a precedent for the option of communicating a 2035 NDC, which seems to be the preferred option of a number of Member States,[9] and is consistent with the GAC. Fortunately, Art. 4.9 allows for multiple NDCs to be communicated simultaneously, so that there is no need to choose one over the other. 

In short, keeping in mind the domestic legislative constraints, it is possible (as illustrated in Figure 2) for the EU to include the communication pattern set in Paris in a cycle that would be consistent with the GAC by communicating both a 2035 and a 2040 NDC in 2025, updating the 2040 NDC in 2030, and communicating a 2045 NDC and the 2050 (‘net-zero’) NDC in 2035.

Table 1. EU Climate Legislation/Regulation/NDC Timetable.  Courtesy of Artur Runge-Metzger

[1] Oxford Climate Policy and University of Oxford.

[2] International Forum for Environment, Sustainability & Technology.

[3] Oxford Climate Policy.

[4] The authors would like to acknowledge, with gratitude, feedback received (in alphabetical order) by Annika Christell, Kishan Kumarsingh, Geert Fremout, and Artur Runge-Metzger.

[5] Source: In conversation with SBI and SBSTA Chairs ERCST.

[6] References:

[7] Note that strictly speaking, the projections are made for financial years, starting in April and ending in March of the following calendar year. However, to avoid cumbersome notation, the calendar year of the initial nine months is here used to designate the financial year in question, i.e., ‘2020’ instead of ‘FY 2020-21’.

[8] MoEFCC. (2018). India: Second Biennial Update Report to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India.

[9] See Appendix 3 in Enhance Climate Ambition in 2020: Here’s looking at EU, kid!