Paris Agreement: Tackling the treaty's unfinished business

Madeleine Cuff
Paris Agreement: Tackling the treaty's unfinished business

With the first countries beginning to ratify the Paris Agreement, what loose ends still need to be tied up?

Almost three months on from the day the Paris Agreement was finalised at COP21, the world is beginning to shift into implementation mode. Since December, discussion has focused on mobilising climate funding, getting clean tech initiatives out of the starting blocks, and building momentum ahead of the official signing ceremony in New York in April.

Meanwhile, national delegations are now firmly back on solid ground after the high of Paris and are keenly focused on getting "rubber on the road" with their climate plans, according to executives from Ricardo Energy and Environment, a consultancy that helped more than 15 countries develop their INDCs, including Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Nigeria.

Emelia Holdaway, manager for international climate change policy at Ricardo Energy and Environment, tells BusinessGreen that since early January she has been receiving requests from countries looking to take the next steps to implement their national pledges.

Chris Dodwell, Ricardo's international director, agrees the agreement has ushered in a new phase of deployment. "Countries are very much thinking 'OK we've done this, we are now in a new political phase', and actually they are recognising quite how tricky a job implementation will be," he says. Many countries are aware that although the climate plans - known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in UN jargon - do not take effect until after 2020, the next COP summit in Marrakech in November presents a "short-term deadline" for countries to show that they are taking action, according to Dodwell.

"Those years will pass quickly, and unless countries get their acts together and get their road maps in place [they will struggle to get started]," he says. "You need to build on the momentum of Paris to secure the governance arrangements and the national political buy-in for these road maps."

But some of these countries need to look back before they can go forwards, and there are still a sizeable number of loose ends that need to be tidied up from the negotitating table before the real work of implementation can begin.

First up is addressing many countries' lack of data - an issue which has prevented some from delivering the more ambitious INDCs. For example, Bangladesh was unable to include emission reduction targets for its agriculture and forestry sectors in its INDCs, not necessarily because it wanted to duck the issue, but because it did not have reliable data available to measure the sectors' impact on national emissions.

The Paris Agreement recognises this need for better data. The treaty establishes a new transparency system which requires almost all countries to submit "emissions inventories" and the information necessary to track and implement their INDCs on a two-year basis.

While developing countries - such as Bangladesh - are promised the new system will allow flexibility in how they collect and report this data, the details of how the new system will work will not be finalised until 2018, and won't be adopted until the treaty enters into force in 2020. Separately, negotiators at COP22 will also be hammering out the final details of how the five-yearly review process will work.

Dodwell believes the system should be accommodating enough to allow countries like Bangladesh to review and improve their climate commitments as new data comes to light. "The system has to be flexible enough to allow that, to allow countries to... really do more work and identify if there's more that they can contribute," he says.

Armed with accurate data, countries can start experimenting with new systems to implement their INDCs and track their progress. According to a report released late last month, nearly half of Paris signatories are considering using carbon markets to achieve their climate goals. The report, published by the International Carbon Action Partnership (ICAP), predicts the next few years will bring a proliferation of new policies that seek to put a price on carbon emissions.

Indeed, carbon pricing was one of the surprise success stories for the Paris Agreement. Most commentators expected any mention of carbon pricing to be stripped out of a deal well before the final hours of negotiations. And while the treaty does not contain any overt references to carbon pricing, it does recognise that countries may want to use "internationally transferred mitigation outcomes" to achieve their climate plans - effectively code for market-based mechanisms.

Given that no one was expecting carbon pricing to get a look-in at the summit, its presence in the treaty caught people somewhat by surprise - and as such, a lot of questions remain unanswered over how such a system of "internationally transferred mitigation outcomes" will work in practice.

"I think everyone will agree that Article 6 on the market-based mechanisms contains a lot of ideas that need further fleshing out," says Dodwell. "But the fact that it was there at all was a real surprise in Paris."

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