Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more
Legal Note: Could a Future President Reverse US Approval of the Paris Agreement?
By Daniel Bodansky
Like other treaties, the Paris Agreement includes provisions spelling out the manner in which a party may choose to exercise its right to withdraw. This note summarizes these provisions; relevant provisions of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); related international law; and related provisions and practices under U.S. law. It also looks beyond these legal considerations at the potential diplomatic ramifications should the United States withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
After years of intense negotiations, governments have agreed on a framework for limiting greenhouse gas emissions from international aviation.
It’s the first climate agreement encompassing an entire sector of the global economy. It’s also the first to employ a market-based climate strategy across a global sector, which will help reduce emissions cost-effectively and expand international carbon markets.
International airline travel is among the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. Aviation emissions are expected to triple by 2050 without additional action, making this agreement urgent.
Governments agreed earlier this year at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to phase in new standards for more efficient aircraft design. ICAO is also encouraging operational efficiencies, such as altering flight routes, and the development of lower-carbon fuels.
But these efforts alone won’t meet the goal set by airlines and governments: to freeze aviation emissions at 2020 levels.
That’s why the centerpiece of the ICAO agreement reached October 6 is a market-based measure that will allow airlines to offset any growth in their emissions beyond 2020 levels with reductions in other sectors.
A market-based approach gives businesses the flexibility to choose the most economically efficient way to reduce emissions, which ultimately saves money for consumers. Emissions reductions can be achieved at a lower cost outside the aviation sector, particularly given the projected growth in air traffic in coming decades.
Having an entire sector of the global economy using a market-based approach could spur governments to undertake market approaches in other sectors. The ICAO agreement also comes as nations work toward guidelines under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement to ensure the environmental integrity of offsets and avoid double counting.
Initially, participation in the ICAO program will be voluntary. The United States, Canada, Mexico, China, Singapore, and 44 European nations have committed to sign up from day one. Eventually the program will be extended to all countries, with the exception of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries, and those with only a minor share of global international aviation.
Each individual airline’s offsetting responsibility will be based at first on the overall sector’s emissions growth, to be fairer to fast-growing airlines, and then shift toward an individual airline’s emissions growth.
While the agreement provides an initial framework, details remain to be negotiated. For example, the agreement sets a deadline of 2018 to set Emissions Unit Criteria that will determine what types of offsets are eligible.
The ICAO agreement falls short of universal participation in its earliest stages, but still provides a sensible and practical framework that we can build on to reduce commercial aviation emissions and expand market-based approaches to climate change.
Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
October 6, 2016
On the agreement on an international framework for controlling emissions from the global aviation sector at the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) 39th Assembly:
Today’s agreement is another major step in global efforts to combat climate change, and a clear sign that the momentum we saw in Paris continues to build. The agreement provides a practical framework for harnessing market forces to limit the rapid growth in airline emissions.
International aviation is among the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gases. Without new measures, emissions are expected to triple by 2050.
Governments in the United States and around the world are already using flexible market-based approaches to cut emissions cost-effectively. This agreement is the first to apply a market-based climate strategy across an entire sector of the global economy. By allowing airlines to offset emission increases with reductions in other sectors, the agreement provides an economical way to hold aviation emissions at 2020 levels.
With this framework in place, governments and airlines should move quickly to develop rules ensuring a smooth-working market that delivers real reductions.
For more information:
- International Fellow Anthony Mansell's blog on the ICAO agreement
- Background on international aviation emissions
To speak to a C2ES expert, please contact Laura Rehrmann at email@example.com
About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address our energy and climate challenges. Learn more at www.c2es.org.
Governments are working toward a new international agreement in October 2016 to limit greenhouse gas emissions from aviation. Airline emissions account for 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and, without stronger measures, could triple by 2050.
In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the United Nations body that governs civil aviation, set a goal of carbon-neutral growth starting in 2020. At the 39th ICAO Assembly in October 2016, member states agreed two policies to meet the carbon-neutral goal: international CO2 standards for aircraft; and a market-based mechanism to offset aviation emissions with reductions in other sectors.
Meeting the carbon-neutral goal will require efficiency improvements to reduce fuel use, new alternative fuels, operation improvements, and infrastructure upgrades.
CO2 Standards for Aircraft
In February 2016, the ICAO Committee on Aviation Environmental Protection (CAEP) gave preliminary approval to a CO2 standard for new aircraft, which was formally adopted at the 2016 ICAO Assembly. The standard effectively mandates that each new generation of aircraft continue to achieve the 15-20 percent fuel efficiency gains seen in recent generations.
The standard will apply in three stages. From 2020, all new aircraft designs would have to comply with the new standards. From 2023 to 2028, all aircraft models currently being produced will have to meet a less stringent “in-production” standard if they undergo modifications requiring re-certification. From 2028, all new aircraft will have to meet the full standards.
Virtually all aircraft types in the global commercial fleet will be covered by the CO2 standard, which applies a complex formula based on fuel use during the “cruise” portion of a flight, adjusted for fuselage size.
A Market-Based Mechanism
Governments worked with the airline industry to design a market-based mechanism enabling airlines to offset increased emissions with reductions in other sectors. With air travel projected to continue rising rapidly, airlines are expected to rely heavily on offsets to achieve carbon-neutral growth. The World Bank estimates demand for offsets to reach 250 MtCO2e by 2030 and a cumulative 13-20 GtCO2e by 2050.
The Market-Based Measure is known as the Carbon Offset and Reduction System for International Aviation (CORSIA). These are the main features of the CORSIA:
The CORSIA would commence with a pilot phase from 2021 to 2023, a first phase from 2024 through 2026, and a second phase from 2027 through 2035. In the pilot and first phases, participation will be voluntary. More than 60 countries have agreed to join the program during the voluntary phase, including the U.S., China, European states, Mexico and others. In the second phase, all states not exempted (see below) will be required to participate.
- Exemptions from the second phase apply to least developed countries (LDCs), small island developing states (SIDS), landlocked developing countries (LLDCs) and those with a share of international aviation below 0.5 percent in 2018. This is calculated on the basis of Revenue-Tonne-Kilometers (RTK), a measure of revenue generated moving a metric tonne by one kilometer.
- Offset requirements during the pilot phase can be calculated either on the basis of an operator’s emissions during the given year (e.g. 2021-level emissions in 2021), or they could refer back to 2020 emissions throughout the pilot phase. It is up to each participating state to choose between these approaches.
- · In the pilot phase, first phase, and the first two years of the second phase (i.e. from 2021 to 2029) the distribution of offsetting requirements would be completely on the basis of the growth rate of the sector overall, rather than each individual airline’s growth rate. This ratio would change over time, however, so that in 2030 to 2032, 20 percent would be on the basis of individual airline’s growth rate, and the rest on the basis of the sector. This grows to 70 percent individual rate applied from 2032 to 2035.
Some issues will require further negotiation. A centralized registry under the auspices of ICAO will be designed by 2018, to take effect once the CORSIA begins. In addition, a monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) system and the Emissions Unit Criteria (EUC), which determines what offsets are eligible to be used for compliance, will be decided by 2018.
Paris Climate Agreement Q&A
More than 190 nations meeting in Paris in December 2015 reached a landmark agreement to strengthen the global climate effort. The Paris Agreement commits countries to undertake “nationally determined contributions” and establishes mechanisms to hold them accountable and to strengthen ambition in the years ahead.
What’s the status of the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement will formally enter into force on November 4, 2016. Under the terms of the agreement, it enters into force 30 days after being formally accepted by 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Those thresholds were reached on October 5, 2016. Other countries will become parties to the Paris Agreement as they complete their domestic approval procedures.
What were the main outcomes of the Paris conference?
The Paris conference was the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP 21. The conference concluded a round of negotiations launched in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 with the aim of producing a new legal agreement among national governments to strengthen the global response to climate change. A record 150 heads of state and government attended the opening day of the conference.
The Paris package had three main components: the Paris Agreement, an international treaty setting common goals, commitments and expectations; the intended “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) submitted by more than 180 countries; and the thousands of contributions offered by companies, states, cities and civil society organizations.
How does the Paris Agreement relate to the UNFCCC?
The UNFCCC, adopted in 1992, is a treaty among governments that provides a foundation for the global climate effort. Enjoying near-universal membership, the convention was ratified by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. The convention set a long-term objective (avoiding “dangerous human interference with the climate system”), established principles to guide the global effort, and committed all countries to “mitigate” climate change by reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement defines how countries will implement their UNFCCC commitments after 2020.
What are nationally determined contributions?
In 2013, at COP 19 in Warsaw, parties were encouraged to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement well in advance of COP 21. These INDCs represent each country’s self-defined mitigation goals for the period beginning in 2020. To date, 189 countries accounting for almost 99 percent of global emissions have submitted INDCs to the UNFCCC secretariat.
Developed countries have offered absolute economy-wide emissions targets (the United States, for instance, has pledged to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025). Developing countries have offered a range of approaches, including absolute economy-wide targets, reductions in emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), reductions from projected “business-as-usual” emissions, and reductions in per-capita emissions. C2ES has produced a summary of countries’ INDCs.
Final NDCs are submitted by each party upon its formal ratification or acceptance of the agreement, and are recorded in a UNFCCC registry.
What obligations do countries have under the agreement to reduce their emissions?
The Paris Agreement establishes a set of binding procedural commitments. Parties commit to “prepare, communicate and maintain” successive NDCs; to “pursue domestic mitigation measures” aimed at achieving their NDCs; and to regularly report on their emissions and on progress in implementing their NDCs. The agreement also sets the expectation that each party’s successive NDC will “represent a progression” beyond its previous one and “reflect its highest possible ambition.” The achievement by a party of its NDCs is not a legally binding obligation.
Does the agreement meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius?
In agreements adopted in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, governments set a goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement reaffirms the 2-degree goal, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement also sets two other long-term mitigation goals: first, a peaking of emissions as soon as possible (recognizing that it will take longer for developing countries); then, a goal of net greenhouse gas neutrality (“a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”) in the second half of the century.
Analyses of the INDCs submitted by countries conclude that, while they move us closer to the 2-degree goal, they are not ambitious enough to achieve it. An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of research institutions, concluded that the INDCs, if fully implemented, could result in warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius, which would be 0.9 degrees lower than without them.
How will the Paris Agreement get countries to increase their ambition?
The Paris Agreement provides a durable framework guiding the global effort for decades to come. The aim is to create a continuous cycle that keeps the pressure on countries to raise their ambition over time. To promote rising ambition, the agreement establishes two linked processes, each on a five-year cycle. The first process is a “global stocktake” to assess collective progress toward meeting the agreement’s long-term goals. Parties will then submit new NDCs, “informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake.”
Because the Paris Agreement is to apply post-2020, the first formal stocktake under the agreement will not take place until 2023. But under a decision accompanying the agreement, parties will jumpstart the five-year cycle with a “facilitative dialogue” on collective progress in 2018, and the submission by 2020 of NDCs running through 2030.
How will parties be held accountable?
Accountability will be achieved primarily through an “enhanced transparency framework.” All countries are required to submit emissions inventories and the “information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs. These reports will be subject to an independent review by technical experts and a “facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress” by fellow governments.
Unlike the current transparency system under the UNFCCC, which sets different requirements for developed and developing countries, the new transparency framework will apply to all countries but provide “built-in flexibility” to accommodate varying national capacities. The aim is for all parties to work toward the same standards of accountability as their capacities strengthen over time.
In addition, the agreement establishes a new mechanism to “facilitate implementation and promote compliance.” This “non-adversarial” committee of experts will seek to help countries falling behind on their commitments get back on track. There are no penalties for noncompliance.
How does the agreement address climate adaptation?
Adaptation—steps to cope with the impacts of climate change—receives much greater emphasis under the Paris Agreement than previously under the UNFCCC. Just as parties will submit mitigation contributions, the agreement requires all parties, “as appropriate,” to plan and implement adaptation efforts and encourages all parties to report on their adaptation efforts and/or needs. The agreement also includes a review of adaptation progress, and the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation support, in the global stocktake to be undertaken every five years.
What does the Paris outcome do to support the efforts of developing countries?
Developed countries committed under the UNFCCC to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. As part of the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance for developing countries by 2020.
The Paris Agreement reaffirms developed countries’ UNFCCC obligations; the COP decision accompanying the agreement extends the $100 billion-a-year goal through 2025, and calls for a new goal beyond that “from a floor of” $100 billion a year. The agreement also broadens the donor base beyond developed countries by encouraging other countries to provide support “voluntarily.” China, for instance, recently pledged $3 billion to help other developing countries.
Many national governments offered new financial pledges in Paris. Collectively, developed countries pledged $19 billion to help developing countries, including an announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry that, by 2020, the United States will double its support for adaptation efforts to $800 million a year. In another sign that developing countries are now also providing support, Vietnam pledged $1 million to the new Green Climate Fund (GCF). And for the first time, subnational governments also offered pledges, including 1 million euros from the city of Paris for the GCF, and CAD 6 million from Quebec for the UNFCCC Least Developed Countries Fund. As of June 2016, $10.3 billion has been pledged to the Green Climate Fund from 43 governments.
Does the Paris Agreement address carbon markets?
Many countries indicated in their INDCs that they intend to use some form of international emissions trading to implementing their contributions. To ensure the environmental integrity of such transactions, the agreement requires parties to follow accounting practices avoiding the double counting of “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes.” In addition, the agreement establishes a new mechanism contributing to mitigation and supporting sustainable development, which, depending on its design, could generate or certify tradable emission units.
How did the Paris conference engage stakeholders such as states, cities and business?
Although only national governments participate directly in the negotiations, COP 21 provided many opportunities to showcase the contributions of “non-state actors” to the global climate effort. The strong display of commitments by cities, subnational governments and businesses at the New York Climate Summit in September 2014 led to the establishment at COP 20 of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and the online NAZCA portal, where non-state actors can register their commitments. By the time of Paris, the portal listed nearly 11,000 commitments from 2,250 cities, 22,025 companies, and hundreds of states/regions, investors and civil society organizations. The unprecedented showing of action and support from all levels of society was widely credited as an important factor in Paris’ success. Governments and stakeholder groups are working to strengthen non-state contributions to the UNFCCC.
Is the agreement legally binding?
Yes. The agreement is considered a “treaty” under international law, but only certain provisions are legally binding. The issue of which provisions to make binding was a central concern for many countries, in particular the United States, which wanted an agreement the president could accept without seeking congressional approval. Meeting that test precluded binding emission targets and new binding financial commitments. The agreement, however, includes binding procedural commitments – such as the requirements to maintain successive NDCs and to report on progress in implementing them.
Will Congress have any say over the agreement?
Under U.S. law, a president may under certain circumstances approve U.S. participation in an international agreement without submitting it to Congress. Important considerations include whether the new agreement is implementing a prior agreement such as the UNFCCC that was ratified with the advice and consent of the Senate, and whether it is consistent with, and can be implemented on the basis of, existing U.S. law. Because the agreement does not include binding emission targets, or binding financial commitments beyond those contained in the UNFCCC, and can be implemented on the basis of existing law, the president could choose to approve it by executive action.
A C2ES legal analysis examines issues surrounding U.S. acceptance of the Paris Agreement.
Could a future president withdraw the United States from the agreement?
Under U.S. law, U.S. participation in an international agreement can be terminated by a president, acting on executive authority, or by an act of Congress, regardless of how the United States joined the agreement. The Paris Agreement specifies that a party may not withdraw from the agreement within the first three years following its entry into force.
What happens next?
As other countries complete domestic procedures to formally accept the Paris Agreement, all parties are also expected to continue moving forward with the domestic policies needed to implement their nationally determined contributions. At the same time, governments are negotiating the details of how the Paris Agreement will be implemented – for instance, accounting rules and accountability procedures. These decisions are likely to be finalized by 2018.
The next major UNFCCC conference, COP 22, will take place in Marrakech, Morocco, in November 2016. The conference will mark the first meeting of the Paris Agreement’s governing body, known as the CMA. This initial session of the CMA will likely be suspended until next year or later to allow parties more time to complete the decisions needed to fully implement the agreement.
On October 5, 2016, 11 major corporations based or operating in the United States voiced support for the Paris Agreement as an expression of the strong governmental leadership needed to smoothly transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future.
The companies are endorsing a statement organized by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions applauding the swift action by governments to bring the Paris Agreement into force, encouraging other governments to move expeditiously to formally join, and pledging to work with countries to enact and implement the necessary domestic measures.
The full text is below.
Download a PDF of the statement
BUSINESS STATEMENT APPLAUDING THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT
This statement was developed by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) and is supported by the major companies listed below.
We applaud the swift action by governments to bring the Paris Agreement into force. The Paris Agreement on climate change is a landmark achievement – it establishes an inclusive, pragmatic and, hopefully, durable framework for progressively strengthening efforts globally to address the causes and consequences of climate change.
We recognize the rising environmental, social, economic, and security risks posed by climate change. As businesses concerned about the well-being of our investors, our customers, our communities, and our planet, we are committed to working on our own and in partnership with governments to mobilize the technology, investment and innovation needed to transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy.
We welcome the Paris Agreement as an expression of the strong governmental leadership needed to smoothly transition to a low-carbon, sustainable future. The agreement will help to facilitate and strengthen the role of the private sector in this transition by:
- Providing Long-Term Direction – The goals of keeping warming below 2°C, peaking global emissions, and achieving net greenhouse gas neutrality signal markets to shift investment toward the diverse range of technologies needed to achieve them.
- Promoting Transparency – By requiring countries to be transparent about their policy intentions and implementation, the agreement will provide greater clarity on policy landscapes, enabling companies to better anticipate regulatory risks and economic opportunities.
- Addressing Competitiveness – Global participation and the regular, simultaneous renewal of national contributions will promote a greater comparability of effort, helping to address potential carbon leakage and competitive imbalances that remain a concern for business.
- Facilitating Carbon Pricing – Allowing, and ensuring the environmental integrity of, international emissions trading will help facilitate the growth and credibility of carbon markets, a critical tool for cost-effective emissions reduction.
We encourage other governments to move expeditiously to formally join the Paris Agreement, and pledge to work with countries to enact and implement the domestic measures needed to achieve their national contributions.
BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY ENERGY • CALPINE • HP INC. • INTEL • LAFARGEHOLCIM
MICROSOFT • NATIONAL GRID • PG&E • RIO TINTO • SCHNEIDER ELECTRIC • SHELL
- Blog from COP 22 in Marrakech: Businesses continue to lead on climate
- Press release on the statement
- April 2016 statement encouraging ratification of the Paris Agreement
- C2ES also joined a coalition of groups coordinating a statement by companies in support of the Paris Agreement and climate action.
- Before the Paris talks, businesses also endorsed a C2ES-sponsored statement calling for a strong international climate agreement.
- C2ES report on how companies are preparing for climate risks: Weathering the Next Storm: A Closer Look at Business Resilience
- Blog post: The enduring power of US-China climate leadership
- Blog post: International transparency provides domestic benefits
- Blog post: Moving forward with the Paris Agreement
- Blog post: States, cities, companies support clean power
- Blog post: Climate agreement signals to business to invest, innovate
- Blog post: Businesses are taking climate action
Targets and Actions under the Copenhagen Accord
The Copenhagen Accord, a political agreement struck by world leaders at the 2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, calls on participating countries to pledge specific actions they will undertake to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. This represents the first time ever that all of the world’s major economies have offered explicit international climate pledges.
In the case of Annex I (developed) countries, the nonbinding Accord calls for quantified economy-wide emission targets for 2020. In the case of non-Annex I (developing) countries, it calls for “nationally appropriate mitigation actions,” but does not specify what form they should take. (Least developed and small island countries “may undertake actions voluntarily and on the basis of support.”)
As of May 24, 2010, 99 parties (counting the 27 member states of the European Union as a single party) had filed submissions with the U.N. climate change secretariat :
- 16 Annex I countries submitted 2020 emissions targets ;
- 37 non-Annex I countries submitted mitigation actions; and
- 46 other non-Annex I countries associated with the accord.
The following is a summary of information submitted to date. Please check back regularly for updated information or visit the UN Climate Change Convention website.
Click here for a full summary of targets and actions under the Copenhagen Accord (pdf).
Click here for a side-by-side comparison of main provisions of the Copenhagen Accord, the draft core decision texts carried forward from Copenhagen in the UNFCCC Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-Term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA), and the text prepared by the AWG-LCA Chair in May 2010 to facilitate further negotiations.
Mitigation Pledges Under the Copenhagen Accord
In the Copenhagen Accord, countries agree that “deep cuts in global emissions are required… so as to hold the increase in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius…” To date, nearly 50 parties (counting the European Union as a single party) have submitted specific mitigation pledges under the Accord. Several analyses (summarized here) have assessed whether these pledges are consistent with the goal of limiting global temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.
Our review of these analyses finds that:
- Most show the pledges are inadequate to achieve a 2-degree goal, and instead imply a global emissions pathway leading to 3 to 3.9 degrees of warming.
- Collectively, the pledges would reduce global emissions between 4 percent and16 percent below business as usual (BAU) in 2020. (All projections of the pledges’ impact on emissions show ranges of reductions because many of the pledges specify ranges, with the more ambitious end of the range applying if stipulated conditions are met. ) A 2-degree pathway requires reductions of 21 percent to 26 percent below BAU.
- Pledges by developed countries would reduce their emissions 10 percent to 13 percent below BAU in 2020, and pledges by developing countries would reduce their emissions 6 percent to 9 percent below BAU.
Our Policy Viewpoints and Statements:
- Blog: Back to Bonn ... Again (June 2, 2010)
- Article: Designing A Deal (May 2010)
- Statement: Christiana Figueres Appointed (May 17, 2010)
- Blog: Yvo de Boer To Resign July 1 (Feb. 18, 2010)
- Blog: Copenhagen Accord: Act II (February 3, 2010)
- Blog: One Less Excuse to Avoid Acting (December 22, 2009)
- Blog: Delivering More than Promises (December 10, 2009)
- Statement: Copenhagen Accord Reached by World Leaders
- Summary of the Copenhagen climate summit, including key elements of the Copenhagen Accord and other conference highlights
- Copenhagen COP 15 Summary
- Copenhagen Accord
- COP 15 Decisions
More COP15 resources available here.
The following appeared in the September 2016 edition of Climate 2020, A UNA-UK publication providing analysis and recommendations on fulfilling the Paris Agreement on climate change
By Elliot Diringer, Executive Vice President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES)
Even before the landmark Paris Agreement has formally become international law, it’s clear that the signals sounded in Paris are reverberating with many of the real-world decision-makers who ultimately must deliver on its promise.
From investors like Warren Buffett to CEOs of top global companies to the mayors of many of the world’s largest cities, Paris is resounding as an unprecedented call to action. This ‘signalling effect’ is penetrating all levels of society, and may ultimately prove as decisive as the actions of national governments in determining the agreement’s success.
The Paris moment, and the ground-breaking agreement it forged, can accelerate the low-carbon transition in three different ways. The most direct is through the implementation of the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) that countries pledged in Paris. These lay out the country-specific goals and policies that will define national responses to the global climate challenge in the decade after 2020.
The Paris Agreement itself will drive further action through multilateral norms and mechanisms to promote international accountability and ambition. Stronger transparency rules, and the obligation to offer a new contribution every five years, will strengthen confidence that all countries are doing their fair share. This, in turn, can open political space for each to do more.
But the most immediate – if least direct – impact of the Paris Agreement is the internalisation by influential decision-makers of the imperative of a low-carbon transition. Among global challenges, climate change is unprecedented in the way it permeates virtually every facet of the global economy. It follows that an effective response demands action not just by national governments but at every level, from the local to the global, in both the public and the private spheres.
Action by cities, provinces and companies has been strengthening for some time. But these ‘non-state actors’ have remained largely disconnected from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – the central forum established by national governments nearly a quarter of a century ago to guide the global response.
That changed in Paris. With strong encouragement from the French conference hosts, thousands of mayors, governors, corporate chiefs and other leaders came to the UNFCCC meeting carrying their own commitments. Paris became a catalytic moment yielding an unprecedented showing of action at all levels.
Even more telling are the many ways in which the signals sounded in Paris continue to resound. Among many investors, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders is greeted as a near-oracular event. In his letter this year, Buffett cited Paris as a further impetus for the multibillion-dollar investments that have made his company one of the largest generators of clean power in the US.
Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world’s largest manager of assets (worth some $4.6 trillion), similarly highlighted the Paris Agreement in a letter urging the CEOs of S&P 500 companies to focus more on long-term value creation and less on short-term gains.
There have also been some other encouraging signs since Paris: A dozen companies, including Bloomberg, HP and Tata Motors joined an existing group of 58 others, including Google, Nestlé and Coca-Cola, in committing to move to 100 per cent renewable energy.
In May, declaring Paris a “watershed” moment, Total CEO Patrick Pouyanné said the French oil giant will base future investment decisions on a 2°C scenario, pulling back from investments in tar sands and the Arctic, and shifting its portfolio towards renewables.
Banks including JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs established new lending practices or new funds favouring clean energy over fossil fuels. And a consortium of financial institutions and investors are partnering under the Catalytic Finance Initiative, originally launched by Bank of America, to direct $8 billion towards sustainable investments.
In a move bound to ripple across many sectors, the Moody’s credit rating agency announced in June that it was building countries’ Paris pledges into the baseline scenario it uses to rate public and private-sector investments.
Mayors also are reading Paris as a cue for stronger climate action. In June, two groups merged to form the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, comprised of the leaders of more than 7,000 cities, large and small, in 119 countries. The mayors pledged to set goals going further than their countries’ respective national commitments.
To strengthen the rigour and credibility of their contributions, the mayors’ group and others are establishing methodologies to track actions and measure their emissions impact. A loose network of non-state constituencies have begun planning their own summit to showcase their efforts in mid-2018, as national governments prepare to take stock of global progress.
That the signals from Paris are being so widely received – and amplified – reflects a dramatic evolution in the global climate effort. The multilateral struggles of national governments may still occupy centre stage, but the annual UN climate conferences are becoming more inclusive affairs, welcoming and capitalising on the energies of other influential players.
This activation of investors and multinational companies, and of elected leaders responsible for the everyday concerns of millions around the globe, will likely be a key component of Paris’s success.
Leading up to Paris, the surge of commitments by non-state actors helped embolden governments to offer up ambitious INDCs. In the years ahead, it will in many countries fall to business and to subnational leaders, as much as to national governments, to ensure that these national contributions are fulfilled.
Indeed, over the long haul, the more deeply the Paris goals are embedded in corporate and subnational decision-making, the better they will withstand the political and economic currents that may distract national leaders from the imperative of the low-carbon transition.
At the next UNFCCC conference in Marrakech, parties may look at ways to strengthen the engagement of non-state actors going forward. They could, for instance, play a role in the ‘global stocktake’ that will take place every five years. Or governments could grant permanent status to the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA) portal, an online registry launched before Paris that now contains commitments from more than 11,000 cities, regions, companies, investors and civil-society organisations.
But more important than any formal role for mayors and CEOs in the UN process ?is the continued uptake of the signals Paris is sending.
Achieving the United States' Intended Nationally Determined Contribution
Last updated: November 2016
More than 180 nations representing more than 95 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions offered “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement reached in December 2015. The United States’ INDC is an economy-wide target to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. Available analyses suggest that the United States could reduce emissions by more than 22 percent with policies either already in place or soon anticipated. Options for achieving further reductions to meet the 2025 target may include additional policies, technological advances, and stronger action by cities and companies. Concerted efforts across multiple fronts could reasonably produce the reductions needed to meet the goal. Specifically, this paper looks at the progress that has been achieved since 2005, the effect existing and proposed policies will have by 2025 as well plausible steps to fill the gap.
Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
September 3, 2016
On the United States and China formally adopting the Paris Agreement on climate change:
It’s remarkable that in a few short years the world’s two leading climate antagonists have become the world’s two leading climate champions. The United States can no longer claim that China’s inaction is an excuse to do nothing, and vice versa. With both again committing themselves to a low-carbon future, the two countries are setting an example the rest of the world can hardly ignore.
The Paris Agreement not only commits all countries to do their best to combat climate change, but provides us the tools to hold them accountable. Stronger transparency rules will make clear whether countries are keeping their promises and contributing their fair share to the global effort. And, by requiring countries to update their contributions every five years, the agreement will work to strengthen ambition over time.
As national governments take the steps necessary to bring the agreement into force and to implement their commitments, it’s clear that the Paris signal is also resounding with other leaders who are critical to achieving its promise. Mayors, governors, CEOs and investors are all taking steps to cut emissions and expand clean energy. The more deeply the Paris goals are embedded in real-world decision-making, the better they will withstand shifting political and economic currents, and the better our prospects for a low-carbon future.
For more information on the Paris Agreement, see www.c2es.org/international/paris-agreement
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About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advancing strong policy and action to address climate change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.