Latest UN climate talks must make progress on Glasgow mandates to ‘keep 1.5 alive’

A key stated aim of the COP26 Presidency going into Glasgow was to “keep 1.5 alive.” Coming out of COP26 most commentators—and the COP26 President—seemed to be of the view that that objective had been achieved, but barely. Some commentary referred to it as “alive but on life support.”

What is clear is that COP26 agreed to a number of mandates related to reducing greenhouse gas emissions which, if implemented by Parties in good faith, will go a long way to creating much needed momentum toward both implementing mitigation commitments already made, as well as further enhancing climate ambition in line with the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

Mitigation mandates in Decision 1/CMA.3 from Glasgow included:

  • Paragraph 22: “Recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases;”
  • Paragraph 23: “Also recognizes that this requires accelerated action in this critical decade, on the basis of the best available scientific knowledge and equity, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in the light of different national circumstances and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty;”
  • Paragraph 26: “Emphasizes the urgent need for Parties to increase their efforts to collectively reduce emissions through accelerated action and implementation of domestic mitigation measures in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement;”
  • Paragraph 27: “Decides to establish a work programme to urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation in this critical decade and requests the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice to recommend a draft decision on this matter for consideration and adoption by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement at its fourth session, in a manner that complements the global stocktake;”
  • Paragraph 29: “Recalls Article 3 and Article 4, paragraphs 3, 4, 5 and 11, of the Paris Agreement and requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances;”
  • Paragraph 31: “Decides to convene an annual high-level ministerial round table on pre-2030 ambition, beginning at the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement;”
  • Paragraph 32: “Urges Parties that have not yet done so to communicate, by the fourth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies referred to in Article 4, paragraph 19, of the Paris Agreement towards just transitions to net zero emissions by or around mid-century, taking into account different national circumstances;”
  • Paragraph 36: “Calls upon Parties to accelerate the development, deployment and dissemination of technologies, and the adoption of policies, to transition towards low-emission energy systems, including by rapidly scaling up the deployment of clean power generation and energy efficiency measures, including accelerating efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards a just transition;”

Although not all these mandates are expected to mature by COP27, expectations will be very high in Sharm El-Sheikh for Parties to demonstrate progress against them, not least in light of the urgency highlighted in the latest findings of the IPCC in its Working Group III report.

While delivering on some of these mandates will not require negotiation but rather domestic action, others will need to be taken forward in the context of the UNFCCC process. More specifically setting up the mitigation work programme (MWP) will entail the agreement and adoption of a process decision at COP27. And the annual ministerial roundtable (MRT) will need to be organized within the context of the UNFCCC process.

Reaching a successful outcome on the MWP will require a number of overarching questions to be addressed, including:

  • How can the MWP best be organized to deliver on its mandate?
    • Are there lessons that could be learned from previous UNFCCC processes?
    • What should be the main inputs?
    • What outputs would be most useful?
  • How should the MWP complement the global stocktake?
    • How will it be different and add value?
    • How should it interact with the five-year ambition cycle of the Paris Agreement?
  • What progress on the MWP is needed at the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies meeting in June? Will there need to be further work before COP27?
  • What should be the purpose of the annual MRT? How should the first one at COP27 be prepared and organized? What will be its relationship to the MWP?

The Subsidiary Bodies meeting in Bonn will be vital to make progress on the MWP, in particular toward preparing the draft decision to be adopted at COP27.

While 1/CMA.3 gives little to no guidance on how the MWP and MRT should be taken forward, the good news is that agreeing on process decisions that elaborate work programs and organizing ministerial roundtables are nothing new to the UNFCCC. There is a lot of past experience to draw upon, including:

  • stocktakes on pre-2020 implementation and ambition held at COP24, COP25, and in 2020 the Climate Dialogues on pre-2020 implementation and ambition
  • the technical process and political segment of the Talanoa Dialogue
  • the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit
  • the Technical Expert Meeting on Mitigation process under ‘workstream II’ prior to 2020

Furthermore, keeping in mind that in relation to the MWP the aim is to agree to a process decision at COP27, and not resolve matters of substance, ought to provide some perspective and context that minimizes the need for protracted and contentious negotiations.

In its latest paper, C2ES:

  • sets out some ideas on how the MWP and MRT could be conducted, based on past experience
  • explores the important issue of how the MWP could “complement” the Global Stocktake process under the Paris Agreement—in other words, how can it add value without duplicating efforts
  • explores the relationship of the MWP to the MRT.