All about ambition – Day 5 of the final COP21 negotiating session

October 23, 2015

Posted by: Frances Lawson

With well over a hundred INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) now submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat, one of the talking points of this final negotiating session has been the adequacy of the mitigation pledges made therein relative to the target to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The picture is not unexpected, but it is deeply concerning. The INDC commitments made thus far, accounting for approximately 90% of global emissions, will fall some way short of what is required to limit warming to 2 degrees. If the INDC commitments are not fully implemented, the shortfall will be even greater.

A key part of the dialogue in Bonn is therefore centred on a mechanism to increase the level of mitigation ambition to try to bridge the gap. Parties are being urged to incorporate into the Paris Agreement a tool by which updated INDCs are to be submitted pledging ever-greater commitments, rather than it being left on a voluntary basis for Parties to do if they choose. Further proposals have also been advanced by the negotiations’ Co-Chairs, and also by NGOs, for INDCs to be assessed, reviewed and updated every five years thereafter as part of 5-year commitment cycles. Only with such a mechanism will the international community be able to take advantage of positive, unforeseen events such as the dramatic reduction in the cost of renewable technologies.

With the Paris Agreement, and therefore the INDCS, only due to take effect from 2020, the other related issue awaiting determination is what happens in the five-year gap between 2015 and 2020. Some countries have commitments to 2020 under the extended Kyoto Protocol; most, however, do not. What is put in place to cover the next five years before the Paris Agreement comes into effect will play a major role in determining to what extent those Paris commitments achieve their aim. Heading in the wrong direction between now and 2020 will jeopardise the realisation of whatever pledges are finally incorporated into the legal text at COP21.

While everyone in the room publicly endorses the call for ‘ambition’, making it one of the buzzwords of the current process, attachment to the principles of national determination and sovereignty mean Parties have always tended to express reluctance to have their commitments assessed or reviewed by anyone but themselves. As necessary as the ambition proposals are for the climate, realistically, there may well be insufficient appetite for their agreement in Paris.

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