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OPINION: Bridging the Gap – INDCs fail to deliver sufficient ambition

Kiran Sura, CDKN’s Head of Negotiations Support, reports from a conference held in Morocco this month to take the measure of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) that governments have submitted in advance of the Paris climate summit.

Ministers, high-level policy officials and leading voices from academia, private sector and civil society convened in Rabat, Morocco on 12-13th October to take stock of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted by Parties to the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). INDCs represent each country’s contribution to a global climate agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol. The Forum was convened by the Government of Morocco, which will hold the presidency of the 22nd Conference of Parties under the UNFCCC (from December) – and the European Commission. The meeting’s aim was to create a space for countries to review the aggregate effect of the INDCs countries have submitted, discuss how the ambition can be ramped up to keep the world on a trajectory to limit warming to 2 degrees, and share the lessons learned from the INDC process. With less than five official negotiating days left before countries meet in Paris to hammer out a global climate agreement, the Morocco meeting represented an important political moment to deliberate a global response to the challenge ahead.

October 1st was the ‘official’ deadline for countries to submit their INDCs for inclusion in the UNFCCC’s INDC synthesis report due to be published on 1st November. As of 11:59 pm on 1st October, 148 countries had submitted their INDCs, covering approximately 90% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Many hailed this as an unprecedented political success, and in the words of Miguel Arias Canete, European Commissioner for Climate and Energy, ‘a real game changer: from action by few to action by all’. Under the Kyoto Protocol, only developed countries were required to take action; however, the call for INDCs has seen many developing countries come forward with pledges, and in some cases for the very first time. But what do these INDCs really mean for the fight against climate change? Has the objective to secure universal participation come at the expense of ambition?

Reality of the numbers

Together current climate change policies and INDCs, if implemented, would bring global warming down to 2.7°C, according to an analysis released by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT). Delegates said in unison that INDCs marked an improvement on previous pledges and had in principle delivered a noticeable deviation from the business-as-usual pathway. However, the reality is that the world is still on a pathway consistent with a potential range of warming of anywhere from 2.5 to as high as nearly 4°C above preindustrial levels  (see this graph). We will need to “bend the curve” of emissions reductions much further to keep the world on a trajectory to limit warming to 2.0°C, and even further to limit warming to 1.5°C – the target being called for by least developed countries and small island developing states. CAT estimates this leaves a gap of 15-17 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent or 21-23 gigatonnes CO2 equivalent by 2030 to keep us on a 2.0°C or 1.5°C emissions pathway respectively. Emerging analysis from UNEP presented in Rabat — which includes all INDCs submitted by 1st October — presented a slightly smaller emissions gap, however the gap still remains and is set to grow by 2030 unless further action is taken.

Opportunity to do more

The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate highlighted how international partnerships and cooperation could help to catalyse emissions reductions while simultaneously delivering economic growth – ‘better growth’. Some of the report’s recommendations around cities, infrastructure, agriculture, forestry, and clean and efficient energy have been captured in submitted INDCs. But pledges may not have captured all the potential action from multi-stakeholder partnerships with non-state actors such as the business and investor communities, nor the emissions reduction potential in the maritime or aviation sectors which have hitherto been very difficult to attribute to territories. Such cooperative action could help to address the remaining emissions gap and lock-in action before 2020 – which will be vital for keeping the 2°C limit a possibility. The year 2020 is when a new global agreement would come into effect and when the Kyoto Protocol (in which only 37 countries currently have binding targets) comes to a close. Participants in the forum highlighted other actions with significant potential to close this gap, such as the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies (what the IMF calls the “$5.3 trillion energy subsidy problem”), measures to tackle hydrofluorocarbons which have a more damaging global warming potential than CO2, and carbon pricing.

Consensus prevailed in Rabat that the INDC process has sown the seeds for greater action in the future. INDCs are more than just numbers, they represent political statements of a country’s contribution to tackling climate change. The INDC preparation process has led to a diverse set of actors’ engaging with the climate change agenda; it has strengthened the institutional and political architecture around climate change; it has increased the potential for cooperation to deliver action either through the market or other means of implementation; and it has affirmed that governments’ can apply robust climate science to policy-making in their national circumstances. For developing countries in particular, INDCs have provided an important vehicle for showcasing their plans for low-carbon and climate-resilient growth.

Capacity remains an issues especially for developing countries: data gaps and data availability have hampered developing countries’ INDC preparations. Going forward, these countries will require substantial international support to implement their contributions in the form of finance, technology transfer and capacity building. It is widely accepted that the climate finance target agreed by Parties to the UNFCCC six years ago – to deliver $100bn per year by 2020 – is a drop in the ocean compared to the financing that will be required to deliver the energy transformation needed to put us on a 2°C pathway. Innovative and alternative sources of climate finance will be required to meet this investment gap.

Options are on the table for negotiators to lock in and scale up the ambition in Paris. Countries have signaled their commitment to act and now Paris needs to deliver the machinery to deliver this action. A global climate agreement needs to set out a measurable, equitable and time-bound, long-term target to link the bottom-up INDC process with a trajectory that limits dangerous warming, and sends a strong signal to the governments, businesses and investors of the direction of travel. This needs to be complemented by a transparent accountability framework that helps us to track and monitor progress, and a review and ratchet up (no back-sliding) mechanism that ensures these contributions represent the ‘floor’ of action.

While there was resounding support for a 5-year review cycle in Rabat, there was also agreement that INDCs need to be revisited before pledges come in to force in 2020 to narrow the emissions gap, and that there should be a mechanism in place for countries to revise their contributions upwards, at any time. But this also requires the Paris summit to deliver greater clarity and guidance on the preparation of contributions in the future. The uncertainty surrounding INDCs resulted in many countries coming forward with relatively conservative pledges, bar a few. Greater clarity on data requirements, accounting, format and timeframes for future rounds of pledges may help to unlock greater action. Last, it was clear from discussion in Rabat that the INDC process has created a form of ‘ambition club’ with countries wanting to be ‘inside’ the club rather than ‘out’, or else be seen in a less than favorable light by their peers. Ambition is the only game in town this December and countries have a responsibility to close the gap to ensure the world’s survival.


Image: Boats at Rabat, credit Omer Simkha

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