The Paris Agreement: A Focus on Common Time Frames

By Elizaveta Nidzelskaya

What is a common time frame?

The term common time frame appears in the Paris Agreement (Article 4) to denote the Parties’ agreed time to implement climate change measures described in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). Article 4, Paragraph 9 of the Paris Agreement calls on countries to communicate an NDC every five years, and countries that use a ten-year time frame are still required to submit five-year interim targets [1]. However, the Paris Agreement does not define a common implementation period, or “time frame” [1]. As a result, the first round of NDCs cover time frames that end in either 2025 or 2030 [1].

In Katowice, during the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24), countries agreed that NDCs beginning in 2031 should cover the same, “common”, time frame [2]. However, they could not agree on whether this time period should be five or ten years, and whether a degree of flexibility would be allowed [2]. This was left unresolved the following year (2019) in Madrid, and has been carried over to the upcoming conference in Glasgow [2]. 

Why do common time frames matter?

“If some countries only provide new plans every ten years…why should others increase ambition every five years?”

 Benito Muller, Managing Director of Oxford Climate Policy [3]. 

Five-year time frames are favoured, among others, by the Least Developed Country group (LDC), the Africa Group, the Environmental Integrity Group, the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean (AILAC), the United States (US) and Brazil, many of which represent Parties most affected by the climate crisis [4]. A shorter time frame would help to avoid lock-in of an insufficient level of commitment, prompting Parties to ratchet up their ambitions more regularly [5]. Other Parties, such as Japan and Russia, have stated their preference for ten-year time frames, arguing that it fits better with their national planning [6]. 

A flexible arrangement, whereby countries could choose between a five- or ten-year time frame is another one of the options being considered by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), see explanation in the following section. However, this option is likely to exacerbate the problem of free-riding, as Parties with less ambitious climate plans will not be incentivised to ratchet up ambition every five years when they have the option for ten- year time frames [5]. Therefore, they would be free-riding off the efforts of others and reduce overall emissions reductions. 

In addition, agreeing on a single time frame will allow for greater comparability of ambitions, as well as having implications for other areas of the Paris Agreement such as the carbon market, which will be assessed according to trading periods (but whose rules in Article 6 are yet to be decided) [6].

Preparing for COP26

Negotiations on the issue of common time frames resumed at United Nations virtual talks in May and June 2021 [2]. According to a senior policy advisor for World Wide Fund (WWF), despite some procedural wrangling, the first session of the co-facilitators of the informal negotiating group heard a “determination from almost all parties to reach agreement by COP26…[and] the conditions are in place to get progress on this”, although Yamide Dagnet characterised the interactions between states as “still bickering” about the issue [2,4].

An informal note published subsequently narrowed down the following four options to be raised at COP26 in November 2021.

(Note: Countries submit NDCs five years in advance of the beginning of the time frame. So, if an NDC is submitted in 2015, the time frame for the NDC begins in 2020.)

  1. Five years

By 2025, Parties should communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2035; by 2030, communicate their new NDCs with a time frame up to 2040, and so forth every five years thereafter [7].

  1. Ten years

By 2025, Parties should communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2040; by 2035, communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2050, and so forth every ten years after, as well as communicate/update their NDC every five years e.g. by 2040 with a time frame up to 2050 [7]. 

  1. Five years + five years

By 2025, Parties should communicate two new NDC targets: a five-year target with a time frame up to 2035 and a ten-year target up to 2040. By 2030, Parties should communicate their NDC with a time frame up to 2045 and 2050, and so on [7].

  1. Five or ten years

Parties can choose a five- or ten-year time frame, and communicate their new NDC by 2025 up to 2035 or 2040, and then up to every five/ten years thereafter, accordingly [7].

Time frame
Five yearsBy 2025, Parties should communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2035; by 2030, communicate their new NDCs with a time frame up to 2040, and so forth every five years thereafter [7].
Ten yearsBy 2025, Parties should communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2040; by 2035, communicate their new NDC with a time frame up to 2050, and so forth every ten years after, as well as communicate/update their NDC every five years e.g. by 2040 with a time frame up to 2050 [7]. 
“Five + Five”By 2025, Parties should communicate two new NDC targets: a five-year target with a time frame up to 2035 and a ten-year target up to 2040. By 2030, Parties should communicate their NDC with a time frame up to 2045 and 2050, and so on [7].
Five or ten yearsParties can choose a five- or ten-year time frame, and communicate their new NDC by 2025 up to 2035 or 2040, and then up to every five/ten years thereafter, accordingly [7].

Global Stocktake and NDCs

Known as the “ambition mechanism”, the Global Stocktake (GST) is a review process of the implementation of Parties NDCs to assess the progress towards the Paris Agreement’s goals [8]. It will take place, for the first time, from 2021 to 2023, and will repeat every five years. The outcomes of the stocktake are expected to inform the next submission of an NDC, and increase its ambition when progress is insufficient [5]. Alongside the common time frames, the GST can therefore drive greater climate ambition and comparison between countries.

References

[1] UNFCCC. ‘Paris Agreement’, 2015, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/english_paris_agreement.pdf [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[2] Carbon Brief.‘UN climate talks: Key outcomes from the June 2021 virtual conference’, 2021, URL: https://www.carbonbrief.org/un-climate-talks-key-outcomes-from-the-june-2021-virtual-conference [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[3] Oxford Climate Policy blog. ‘Why an effective Ambition Mechanism is vital to deliver the Paris Agreement’, 2016, URL: https://blog.oxfordclimatepolicy.org/why-an-effective-ambition-mechanism-is-vital-to-deliver-the-paris-agreement/ [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[4] The Economic Times. ‘View: Common sense about common time frames in climate negotiations’, 2021, URL: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/international/world-news/view-common-sense-about-common-time-frames-in-climate-negotiations/articleshow/83428390.cms [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[5] ECBI. Pocket guide to NDCs under the UNFCCC, 2018, URL: https://pubs.iied.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/migrate/G04320.pdf [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[6] Climate Change News,  ‘Common time frames: how they could speed or slow climate action’, 2019, URL: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2019/12/04/common-time-frames-speed-slow-climate-action/ [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[7] UNFCCC. ‘Common time frames for nationally determined contributions referred to in Article 4, paragraph 10, of the Paris Agreement: Informal note by the co-facilitators’, 2021, URL: https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/IN.SBI2021.i5.1.pdf [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
[8] UNFCCC. ‘Global Stocktake’, URL: https://unfccc.int/topics/science/workstreams/global-stocktake [Last accessed on 04/06/21]
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