Moving forward with implementing climate plans under the Paris Agreement

19 May 2016

Written by
Bill Hare, Claire Fyson (PIK), Ela Smith

When considering what kind of support developing countries will need to implement their climate plans (Nationally Determined Contributions) under the Paris Agreement, let’s not forget that emission reductions offered in current climate pledges are grossly inadequate to meet the objective of the Paris Agreement to keep warming to 1.5°C, and therefore must be ramped up. If emission reductions are not ramped up, the climate change impacts will be unnecessarily severe, damages will be unnecessarily large, and the costs of adaptation will be unnecessarily high.

On the second day of climate talks in Bonn, the UNFCCC held a special event on moving forward with implementing national climate action plans, known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs outline what governments promise to do to cut emissions and adapt to climate change across many sectors, for example decarbonising the power sector by moving to renewables and improving energy efficiency, better land management, urban planning and transport.

The event focused on the challenges and next steps in implementing climate plans of developing countries, gave donor and development bank perspectives, discussed access to climate finance. It also presented some practical experiences from organisations working on readiness and implementation support.

UNFCCC’ climate chief Christiana Figueres emphasised that the first step in turning climate plans into real projects is to overlap these plans with national sustainable development priorities, which would receive the most political, sectoral and civil society support on the domestic level. This view was echoed by Ambassador Aziz Mekouar, representing Morocco’s COP22 presidency.

Laurence Tubiana, speaking on behalf of the French COP21 presidency, said that moving into the implementation phase of NDCs requires a new discussion on development between donors and stakeholders. She highlighted the need to simplify access to financing to help countries implement their NDCs, action plans and concrete programs.

Speaking from a donor perspective, Ingrid-Gabriela Hoven from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said in order for NDC implementation to be successful, support must be tailor made, country driven and take into account local decision making.

Representatives from development banks (World Bank, European Development Bank and KFW) and the Green Climate Fund also discussed the key criteria for funding projects and programmes resulting from climate plans, highlighting the need for well-planned projects to attract the private sector.

It is very valuable to explore all these questions and perspectives as we move into the implementation phase of the climate plans submitted under the Paris Agreement but the most crucial element was missing from these considerations.

When considering what kind of support will be needed to achieve this, we must not get distracted from the fact that the current emission reductions provided in the NDCs are not sufficient to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to keep warming to 1.5°C, and therefore must be ramped up.

The NDCs represent an on-going 5-yearly process, as decided in Paris, and as such do not currently give a complete picture of their support needs and future emission reduction levels. The current emission reduction level of the NDCs should not be used as a basis for deciding how much support will be needed for their implementation.

All studies on projected warming from the current INDCs show that warming will exceed 2°C, likely at least 2.7-3oC by 2100 and that emissions in 2030 from the INDCs are estimated at 52-59 GtCO2eq, which is 24-60% higher than 2°C compatible emission pathways. The UNEP Gap Report estimates that 21st century warming will reach 3°C. The Climate Action Tracker estimates that 21st century warming will reach 2.7°C.

In recognition of this, COP21 requested the IPCC to prepare a special report on 1.5°C issues, including this emissions gap and impacts for input into the 2018 facilitative dialogue process.

The NDCs for the period up to 2030 must be substantially stronger than those currently on the table if warming is to be held to 1.5°C. This is the conclusion of both the UNFCCC Synthesis Report and the UNEP Gap report. The longer drastic emission reductions are delayed, the more difficult and costly it will be to reach the long-term temperature goal.

The current, dangerous projected level of warming will be locked in if plans for NDC implementation and support incorrectly assume that the insufficient emission reductions contained in the NDCs will remain static.

It must not be assumed that the current NDCs capture the actual needs for support and capacity building, since they will evolve over time to increase emission reductions and to reflect new information. For many countries, NDCs only capture a fraction of the actual potential for mitigation and adaptation because they were developed as part of national processes that are still gaining traction.

Further data collection and analysis is required in order to give a more accurate picture of the potential contributions, and in order for countries to prepare their mid-century long-term low emission development strategies by 2020. The process of implementing NDCs must allow such new information to be incorporated.

If emission reductions are not ramped up, the benefits of keeping below 1.5°C will not be realised. Consequently, impacts will be unnecessarily severe, damages will be unnecessarily large, and the costs of adaptation will be unnecessarily high.

Even if warming this century is held below 1.5°C, there will still be substantial damages in the form of heat events, damages to water resources and threats to food security. These impacts become rapidly worse for higher degrees of warming.

The recent UNEP Adaptation Gap Report showed that the cost of adapting to climate change could hit $500 billion per year by 2050. Adaptation costs increase rapidly at higher levels of warming, and this is the case when looking at specific sectors and countries, as well as at the global level.
The time-lag between the release of emissions and the point in time when their impacts are felt means that rapid action is essential. If we wait until the results of the Global Stocktake in 2023 before increasing the ambition level of NDCs, it will be very difficult to implement changes before 2030. Information to assist countries in developing more ambitious NDCs will be available well before then, including through IPCC 1.5°C special report and the facilitative dialogue in 2018.

Given that we already know that the level of emission reductions in NDCs is much too low, it would be much more effective to start the process of improving NDCs now, before the current level becomes locked in.