The Paris Agreement: A Focus on Unresolved Issues

By Elizaveta Nidzelskaya

When an issue does not get resolved at a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP), it gets automatically postponed to the agenda of the following year under “Rule 16” of the UNFCCC. 

Five years since the Paris Agreement was signed, several aspects of its implementation are yet to be fleshed out, due mostly to Parties’ conflicting interests, as well as other factors, such as scientific uncertainty and perceived lack of urgency compared to other issues. Outlined below are five of the agreement’s outstanding aspects that will be addressed at COP26:

  1. Article 6 and the Rules for a Global Carbon Market

Setting out rules for the implementation of Article 6 on voluntary international cooperation, remains the most unresolved part of the agreement [1]. Article 6 established what has come to be called the Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) – an international emissions trading market, whereby any country that has cut emissions beyond its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledge can sell excess emissions credit to a country that has fallen short of its goal. Contentions include how to avoid double-counting of emissions when they are traded from one country to another, and whether countries could use credits generated under the Kyoto Protocol [2]. The way the rules are designed could “make or break” the Paris Agreement. If done well, the SDM could increase ambition and reduce costs; if poorly designed, it would allow targets to be met on paper, while overall emissions continue to rise [2]. For more information on the unresolved issues of Article 6 see our article: The Paris Agreement: A Focus on Article 6

  1. Loss and Damage

In 2013, COP19 established the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) to address “loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable”, and the Paris Agreement provides for WIM’s continuation [3]. Loss and damage covers effects, such as sea level rise, that are irreversible, cannot be managed through adaptation and disproportionately affect poorer nations who are not historically responsible for the vast share of the emissions. At COP25, the Santiago Network (SNLD) was established to “catalyse technical assistance”, connecting vulnerable countries with necessary scientific and technical advice [4]. 

However, the issue of funding for loss and damage is unresolved. Some Parties, such as the European Union, have proposed financing it through existing climate funding, such as the Green Climate Fund. Others, like the United States, have resisted providing extra funding because of a clause in the Paris Agreement stating that the Mechanism “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation” [1]. On the other hand, vulnerable countries want to use the WIM to generate different ways of raising money specifically for loss and damage, calling for “adequate, easily accessible, scale up, new and additional, predictable finance, technology and capacity building” [5,6]. The decision on how and if developing countries can claim funding from developed countries for loss and damage has been postponed to this year’s COP (2021). 

  1. Nationally Determined Contribution Timeframes

Parties’ NDCs currently cover a range of timeframes and have differing end-dates (somewhere between 2025 and 2030). To address this, it was agreed at COP24 that a common timeframe should be decided from 2031 [7]. It is an important detail, as many argue that timeframes influence the ambition of climate action, as well as other parts of the Paris Agreement, such as the assessment of each “trading period” of the carbon market [8]. However, countries disagree on whether NDCs should be pledged every five or ten years, and to what extent they should have flexibility in choosing deadlines [1]. NGOs and vulnerable countries tend to favour shorter goals, so that ambition can be continuously ratcheted up. Compromises have been proposed, such as letting Parties decide themselves, or “5 plus 5” put forward by Brazil, whereby countries would set their goal five years ahead, while indicating their ten-year goal that could later be adjusted [9]. The issue was not resolved at Katowice, nor at the last Conference in Madrid, and so postponed once again to be dealt with in 2021 [10].

  1. Climate Finance

In 2009, developed countries pledged $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by 2020, in line with Article 9 of the agreement [11]. The deadline has passed, and the target was not delivered. COP26 will set a new collective finance target to be agreed upon by 2025 [12].

  1. Common Metrics 

As the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) states, “to quantify and compare the climate impacts of various emissions, it is necessary to choose a climate parameter by which to measure the effects” [13]. Non-carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are converted into their CO2 equivalent, such as Global Warming Potential (GWP100). This was the metric adopted at Katowice, with the condition that parties could use alternative metrics in addition to GWP if they wished. As a result, there are discrepancies in how countries report emissions, and many call for these to be harmonised for the sake of “consistency, comparability and transparency” [1]. However, not all scientists, including within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), support this, arguing that one metric cannot cover all policy uses [1]. The issue is likely to be addressed in the IPCC report due to be published later this year, and remains to be resolved at COP26.

References:

[1] Carbon Brief, 2019, ‘COP25: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Madrid.’ URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop25-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-madrid (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[2] World Resources Institute, 2019. ‘What You Need to Know About Article 6 of the Paris Agreement’. URL: https://www.wri.org/insights/what-you-need-know-about-article-6-paris-agreement#:~:text=Studies%20show%20that%20if%20designed,goals%20at%20a%20lower%20cost.&text=Article%206%20must%20aid%20%E2%80%94%20rather,and%20countries’%20commitments%20under%20it (last accessed 10 May 2021). 
[3] UNFCCC, 2014. ‘Report of the Conference of Parties on its nineteenth sessions, held in Warsaw from 11 to 23 November 2013.’ https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2013/cop19/eng/10a01.pdf (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[4] UNFCCC, 2019. ‘Decision 2/CMA.2 Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts and its 2019 review’. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cma2_auv_6_WIM.pdf (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[5] UNFCCC, 2016. ‘Report of the Conference of the Parties on its twenty-first session, held in Paris from 30 November to 13 December 2015’. https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10a01.pdf (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[6] UNFCCC, 2019. ‘Group of 77 and China Submission On the Review of the WIM and the Report of the WIM Executive Committee’. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/CRP.SBSTA_.i4_SBI.9.pdf (last accessed 10 May 2021).  
[7] Carbon Brief, 2018. ‘COP24: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Katowice’. URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop24-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-katowice (last accessed 10 May 2021). 
[8] Timperley, 2019. ‘“Common timeframes”: How they could speed or slow climate action’. Climate Home News. URL: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/04/common-time-frames-speed-slow-climate-action/ (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[9] Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit. ‘What is COP26, who will attend it and why does it matter?’. URL: https://eciu.net/analysis/briefings/international-perspectives/what-is-cop26-who-will-attend-it-and-why-does-it-matter (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[10] Earth Negotiations Bulletin, 2019. ‘Report of main proceedings for 9 December 2019’. URL: https://enb.iisd.org/events/chilemadrid-climate-change-conference-december-2019-0/report-main-proceedings-9-december (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[11] UNFCCC, 2015. ‘Decision -/CP.21 Adoption of the Paris Agreement’. https://unfccc.int/files/meetings/paris_nov_2015/application/pdf/cop_auv_template_4b_new__1.pdf (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[12] World Resources Institute, 2020. ‘INSIDER: 4 Key Topics Climate Negotiators Must Resolve by COP26.’ URL: https://www.wri.org/insights/insider-4-key-topics-climate-negotiators-must-resolve-cop26 (last accessed 10 May 2021).
[13] UNFCCC. ‘Common Metrics’. URL: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/transparency-and-reporting/methods-for-climate-change-transparency/common-metrics (last accessed 10 May 2021).
Categories International Policy

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