A “Glasgow Ambition Cycle”?

Johnson Banks, with COP 26 logo.

On 1 April, the UNFCCC Bureau decided to postpone 2020 sessions in light of the corona pandemic. While this may have been inevitable, it must not be used as an excuse to also postpone enhancing the ambition of the global response to climate change under the Paris Agreement. We cannot afford to postpone ratcheting up the ambition of targets (‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ or ‘NDCs’) originally announced five years ago!*

Indeed we need to complete the ‘Paris Ambition Mechanism’ by adding the final component to the current 5-yearly communication and stocktake cycles: an ambition (replenishment) cycle! **

Introducing the missing Ambition Cycle

This aim of this post is to summarise a proposal for this missing cycle, based on work which has been going on since 2014 (see ‘Publications’ below for more info on the origins and evolution of the idea). Following the language used in paragraphs 23 and 24 of the implementing Decision (1/CP.21) of the Paris Agreement (see ‘COP 21 Text’ below) to operationalise the communication cycle, the proposed Ambition Cycle can be introduced with a very simple procedural decision to:

  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;
  2. also request Parties to consider in 2025 updating their nationally determined contributions with a time frame up to 2030, in line with Art. 2.2 [Equity], Art. 4.3 [Progression], and Art. 14 [Global Stocktake] of the Paris Agreement, and to do so every five years thereafter.

Exegesis

A. Choice of Language

Form an exegetical point of view, the first and most important point to be made is that the proposed decision language was chosen not just because of the Paris precedent (paras 23 and 24, see COP 21 Text below) but because it allows avoiding having to go into metaphysical arguments as to the nature of ‘time frames’ which have unfortunately and unnecessarily taken up a lot of time in the past negotiations on the topic.

A lot of time has been spent in the past couple of years to discuss the merits of different durations of a common time frame and whether it should be interpreted as, say, a ‘target period’, or a ‘period of implementation.’ Indeed, it sometimes feels as if there are now different sects (a ‘5-year’ sect, a ’10-year’ sect, and a ‘5+5-year’ ecumenical lot), who seem to be getting more and more entrenched in their creeds. Fortunately, there is no need to enter into such metaphysical debates in order to adopt a common time frame. All that is necessary is the realisation that the target period and period of implementation of an NDC have a common end-point X, referred in the Paris language as the NDC “containing a time frame up to X”. Given this it is possible to define a common time frame without any reference to durations, in the manner proposed above.

B. The Paragraphs

Para. 1 launches the 5+5 cycle. Note that the request is to communicate by 2025 (not in 2025), which leaves open the possibility for Parties to communicate the 2035 15 years before the end of the time frame, as some seem to favour.

Para. 2 introduces the ambition replenishment cycle, that is the simultaneous regular (5-yearly) assessment by Parties of the ambition of NDCs that were originally announced (‘contributed’) 5 years earlier. A lot can happen in 5-years, which is why Parties will not lose face if they decide that, in light of such changed national circumstances, they can do better than what 5 years prior was their highest possible ambition (Art. 4.3). However, this will not happen without a common timetable as to when such assessment are to happen: no-one will increase their ambition ‘spontaneously’ on their own, not least for fear of being accused of imposing an unfair burden on domestic stakeholders.

In practice the two paragraphs mean that Parties:  

  • in 2020: (§23) communicate a (new) 2030 NDC (i.e. with a time frame up to 2030), or (§24) consider updating the existing 2030 NDC;
  • by 2025: communicate a 2035 NDC, in 2025: consider updating 2030 NDC;
  • by 2030: communicate a 2040 NDC, in 2030: consider updating 2035 NDC;
  • by 2035: communicate a 2045 NDC, in 2035: consider updating 2040 NDC;
  • etc. etc.
Source: COP26, UK House of Commons Library Briefing Paper, April 2020.

* See also Francesco Bassetti, “Coronavirus Postpones Climate Summits, But Climate Action Cannot be Delayed“.

** The only way to avoid the situation castigated in a recent Climate Home News blog post (Is the Paris Agreement failing its first test?) becoming the default is by adopting such an ambition updating cycle.


COP 21 Text

Relevant Articles and Paragraphs from the Paris Agreement and Decision 1/CP.21, respectively.

  • Para. 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;
  • Para. 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;
  • Art. 2.2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.
  • 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. [Relevant Articles and Paragraphs from the Paris Agreement and Decision 1/CP.21, respectively.

Selected Publications

Reverse chronological order.

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