COP21 was decades in the making, so how do we make future decades work for climate?

OECD-COP21Shayne MacLachlan, OECD Environment Directorate

Following the hand-wringing, relief-sighing and back-slapping in Paris after nailing the landmark agreement on climate change in December, I took myself off to a farm in rural England to enjoy the new year driving tractors and herding small children (not with tractors). Conversations with friends typically started with remarks about the unseasonably mild weather and often ended on climate change, and unsurprisingly, COP21. As a soundbite buff, I quickly got my lines sorted: “COP21 gave governments a giant shove in the right direction, an emotional rollercoaster ride of hope, expectation and promise”.

Given the years of preparation – and for some OECD colleagues, a life’s work – my hope (which later proved false) was for an enduring, ambitious text, helping us to avoid climate catastrophe. My expectation was far less grand, more closely aligned to the reality of getting 195 countries to adopt an agreement with legal force. The result and attendant promise, which far exceeded my modest expectations, can be described as historically significant and not only provides a mechanism for getting us onto a zero-carbon pathway, but also new approaches to the way we use the planet. So now back at the office and with winter finally arriving with a frosty thud, our attention moves to action on the agreement, or initially at least, a fuller digestion of it and the setting out of a working plan.

  • The reaffirming of the 2°C objective in the Paris Agreement is an accomplishment but presents a huge challenge. The implementation of current Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) would deliver an outcome of close to 3°C warming and won’t be sufficient to avoid climate risk, particularly for the most vulnerable. The ambition in 1.5°C is significant but achieving that would require the remaining carbon budget for the 21st century to be reduced by almost half that of the 2°C scenario and we would have to become carbon neutral some 10-20 years earlier. We need a rapid switch to low-carbon energy everywhere, requiring technology, innovation, capacity building and (obviously) finance. To make the transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient world, the fundamental changes needed will be challenging for even the most developed economies. Developing economies will require support to achieve low-GHG and climate-resilient development pathways. Building on the work in 2015 on aligning policies, the OECD could support policy alignment and cost-effective action to implement countries’ own emissions reduction commitments.
  • The 5-year review cycle of country’s contributions to cutting emissions will inform future NDCs. This is an important element, allowing countries’ commitments to be updated and rolled forward. This “Global Stocktake” of progress sees the first report being undertaken in 2023 and every 5 years thereafter, ahead of setting each successive round of NDCs. This will be a key mechanism for attempting to make bottom-up NDCs consistent with the long-term goal. Common methodologies need to be developed for NDCs, each demonstrating a progression on the previous one. Support is needed for developing country parties for implementation of the review cycle. The OECD/IEA Climate Change Expert Group (CCXG) has undertaken work on mitigation goals, baselines and accounting that could support countries in preparing their NDCs.
  • Undertaking and strengthening adaptation action is in many of the INDCs submitted to date and governments agreed in Paris to provide continued and enhanced international support for adaptation to developing countries. Many countries pushed for the idea of “political parity” which means putting as much effort in terms of political momentum and financial resources into adaptation as to mitigation. Adaptation remains the activity for which a large number of developing countries require assistance, particularly the poorest (LDCs) and most vulnerable (Small Island Developing States – SIDS). Closing the climate finance gap for adaptation compared to mitigation and mobilising new funding sources is essential. The OECD is the ideal forum for the sharing of experiences between the public and private sectors and the work linking policy and economics could help governments move from planning to implementing smart adaptation.
  • The single framework to track progress has built-in flexibility which takes into account the different capacities of each of the parties. Countries will regularly report on emissions and progress toward their NDCs, adaptation actions and on the means of implementation supported including finance, technology and capacity building. However, significant gaps remain in terms of improving the transparency of information on climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building, both on the side of those who provide such support and those who receive it. Following on from the work on Climate Change Mitigation: Policies and Progress, the OECD’s data and policy analysis can support transparency. Additionally, the OECD engages directly with parties on technical policy issues within the UNFCCC process. This is a key component of the work of the joint IEA-OECD Climate Change Expert Group, which will be meeting in March 2016 to discuss key aspects of transparency of support and adaptation action.
  • The COP will set a new finance goal before 2025, with the existing commitment of USD 100 billion per year acting as a floor until then. The OECD-CPI report on climate finance provided an update on progress by developed countries in meeting their finance commitments ahead of COP21 and informed the debate within the negotiations themselves. Climate finance issues will now be addressed by the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body on Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) with recommendations to COP24 in 2018. The OECD development statistics system

Instead of a climate march in Paris, thousands of silent but symbolic shoes found their way to Place de la République during COP21. There’s an old Italian proverb that says “between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out”. Indeed, we are in that period of reflecting on what’s been said and pursuing actions that make a difference. Paris matters tremendously – we got an agreement with legal force after all – but getting our actions to work to reduce the risks of climate change in future decades will probably matter even more.

Useful links

Post-COP21, what’s next? Conference with Richard Baron of the OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development, Tuesday 26 January 2016, 19:30 at The American Library in Paris

COP21 on the Insights blog

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2 comments to “COP21 was decades in the making, so how do we make future decades work for climate?”

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  1. Kirsty Noble - 21/01/2016 Reply

    This is a useful piece but I note that the last paragraph says “instead of a climate march….” In fact there were huge climate marches in Paris. We went from Edinburgh to join the protests on Saturday 12th December; there were at least three large events (which involved people rather than shoes), and which were allowed by the security services in the end. Firstly, a “geolocation protest” where thousands of people went to points all across Paris to spell out a huge message “CLIMATE JUSTICE PEACE”, secondly, an enormous gathering on avenue de la Grand Armée from noon, and then an huge gathering in Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower from 14.00. Reports gave of numbers of up to 20,000 for the biggest demonstrations which was remarkable given the last minute permissions.

  2. Shayne MacLachlan - 09/02/2016 Reply

    Thanks Kirsty for flagging this point. Indeed, it should have been worded differently saying that the major Paris climate march was forbidden by the French government. Being more specific would have helped but I’m glad you pointed towards so many other gatherings and demonstrations. Impressive stuff!

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