By Dean Scott
Oct. 23 — Talks in Bonn toward the first broad international climate change agreement concluded Oct. 23 with negotiators endorsing a way to repeatedly strengthen efforts to combat climate change every few years after 2020 without reopening the accord, which the United Nations hopes to finalize late this year in Paris.
While their approach isn't final unless and until the Paris pact is reached in December, negotiators essentially backed a process to strengthen the actions that more than 150 nations have put on the table this year to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
Todd Stern, the U.S. special envoy for climate change, told reporters in Bonn the ratcheting process is “critical” to the success of the Paris climate agreement. Such a process would allow for pledges to be incrementally and repeatedly strengthened in the years after 2020, when the Paris agreement would enter into force.
The elements of the ramp-up process or mechanism are not really agreed to, with multiple brackets still indicating disagreements, but options have been reduced in most cases and no significant requirements were deleted during a week of UN-sponsored negotiations in Bonn.
Taken together, the various sections detailing the five-year ramp-up process were touted by environmental groups late Oct. 23 as among the few notable improvements made to the negotiating text of the would-be climate deal during the talks in Germany.
The ramp-up requirements are not confined to a single section in the Bonn text but instead are scattered throughout the draft agreement. Negotiators, however, are expected to stitch the elements together into a more coherent whole before the Nov. 30-Dec. 11 Paris talks conclude.
The Bonn text calls for nations to revise those pledges—as well as the climate finance that would be steered to developing nations vulnerable to climate impacts—as early as 2022.
The idea is that the countries would then begin taking stock by about 2024 of what they hope will be stacks of more ambitious climate pledges. That is because the pledges—which the UN calls Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)—offered this year by the U.S., China, India, the European Union and other emitters fall short of what is needed to hold the line on rising global temperatures.
“I don't want to say everything we need is there, but by and large, what we care about is reflected there” in the draft negotiating text produced at the Oct. 19-23 talks in Bonn, Stern said.
While the actual pledges countries including the U.S. put on the table will anchor the deal—the U.S. has pledged a 26 percent to 28 percent emissions cut by 2025 from 2005 levels—so will a strong ratcheting mechanism, Stern said.
“A big priority is to have a ratcheting mechanism; it means this isn't a one-off deal,” limited to what nations can commit to in Paris only in 2015, Stern said. “There needs to be a periodic” strengthening of the pledges—“new rounds of targets, if you will,” Stern said, if the Paris deal ultimately is to be judged a success.
Elina Bardram, the European Union's chief negotiator, told Bloomberg BNA the EU sees the ramp-up, or ratcheting mechanism, as a “central part of the agreement” coming out of Paris.
Under the Bonn text, the EU negotiator said, countries would start the process of revising their current pledges—which they put on the table this year in advance of the December Paris summit—in 2018 or 2019. Pledges would be formally put forth in 2023 and reviewed by the following year—ensuring pledges from all the nations are revised and in place before 2025.
But it's crucial to start that process as early as 2018, the EU negotiator said, as the bloc needs ample time for member nations to consult with each other and agree on the next target.
“We also need to make sure every party must participate” by revising pledges “with full transparency” so that their efforts can be measured and verified by other countries and outside experts, she said.
Jennifer Morgan, who tracked the negotiations in Bonn for the World Resources Institute, said the Bonn draft included “all the elements needed for a credible ratcheting-up mechanism” that can repeatedly strengthen the Paris climate deal over time.
Negotiators in Bonn essentially agreed to back a “progression of ambition every five years,” according to Morgan, who directs WRI's climate program.
“And there's a global stock-take as well,” Morgan said. “So all the nuts and bolts are there to build a good ratcheting system.”
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