The paris climate: A new global vision, challenges of the urban transition remain and negotiations continue


Mukul Sanwal[1]


The Paris Agreement shifts the global concern away from the sole focus of the Climate Convention on emissions reductions, which is really the symptom of the problem, to dealing with its causes, that is, human activities inthe urban transition.The Purpose of the Agreement, or the new global climate policy, puts adaptation at par with mitigation, and finance nowalso linked to technology development and transfer have a more significant role than under the Convention.A static Convention has evolved into a dynamic Agreementgiving hope for optimism.


The essential condition for success will be to recognise the equal emphasis given to ‘fairness’ and ‘ambition’, and “fairness” can only be operationalised on the basis of agreed criteria. Assessments of the Agreement, largely from analysts in the industrialised countries, have focused only on early peaking of emissions in developing countries ignoring the timeframe for industrialised countries rapidly reaching zero emission levels. As Norway’s Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, addressing the 'The New Climate and Development Imperative' session at The World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting, at Davos in January 2016, stated “we will never manage to reach climate targets if we don't create social fairness in the world”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also noted that fairness leads to greater international cooperation.


Implementation will depend on three related but distinct factors as goals become more specific over time. First, how soon the United States, European Union and other countries whose emissions have peaked, but per-capita emissions continue to be well above those of the others, achieve zero-emission levels. Second, how China, India and other developing countries define their urban middle class future and are supported by the lead taken by countries where three-quarter of the population had moved to cities in the 1970’s. Third, stocktaking of the trajectory of global emissions of carbon dioxide informing the policy debate how the world's carbon budget is being expended in the context of sustainable development[2], whether technological changes alone will suffice and how innovative technologies can spread quickly enough to meet the world's huge and growing need for energy, transportation, food, buildings and goods within a re-framed urban transition.Policy relevant research will inform the political debate more directly than in the past as countries aim to modify some longer term trends without affecting urban middle class levels of wellbeing.


Cities are already home to half the world’s population, and account for more than 80% of global economic output and 75% of global energy use and energy-related greenhouse gas emissions; by 2050 two-thirds of the global population will be urban. Responding to this mega-trend the vision of international cooperation has moved away from reliance on environmental law, national obligations and dispute settlement arrangements regulating production patterns;growth in global carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generated from fossil fuels and from industry has ceased in the past two years.


A common understanding is now to be achieved in the Global Stocktake to influence public opinion and modify consumption patterns which, along with services, constitute the major component of GDP and increasing emissions; transport emissions continue to grow in all countries and energy efficiency, also in cities, has the greatest potential in reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. That is why the Agreement requires all countries to provide by 2020low emission development strategies.


Negotiations continue on the common understanding


It is already clear that countries will interpret the compromise formulations according to the impact on per capita incomes of their citizens. As the new principles are still evolving, there is lack of specificity about what is to be reported, guidelinesfor reviews of national contributions and modalities of their aggregate assessment in the global stocktaking. These are the three legally binding elements that will together frame how international cooperation will continue to be enhanced and what each country will continue to do.The road map of the interlocked web of data, information and assessments is expected to resolve differences once there is a common understanding on the guidelines.


The Ad Hoc Working Group has to give early guidance to the IPCC for the Special Report (Para 21) so that the “global greenhouse gas emission pathways” take into account the ‘context’ of sustainable development and eradication of poverty, as required in the Purpose of the Agreement. The COP has to give guidance to the secretariat with respect to the information to be submitted for the stocktake (Art 11).


As methodologies that are adopted by researchers shape policy relevant science that will inform the multilateral process, intense negotiations can be expected on the types of data to be provided and parameters of their assessment in the five processes established under the Agreement,so as to enhance international cooperation:


·        ‘facilitative dialogue’ in 2018, in the context of equity, sustainable development and eradication of poverty (Art 4.1),should balance timeframes for peaking where the urban transition is still on-going with those for reaching zero-emission levels in countries whose emissions have already peaked (Para 20);


·        guidelines for the contributions  require determination of the “reference point” for ‘understanding’ how the “contribution is fair and ambitious” and should include per capita emissions and incomes(Para27 and 26, 28);


·        reviews have to recognise ‘flexibility in light of capacities’ by comparing emissions over time (at least 1990 but preferably 1950), defining ‘environmental integrity’ in terms of modification of longer term trends, adaptationin terms on adverse impacts on water and food security and  support provided interms of technology transfer to ensure ‘completeness’ of the review (Para 92,93 and 95);


·        stocktake should be based on the entire range of information submitted (Para 100) and should consider the global transformation focusing on how the carbon budget is being used and a global action plan for joint development and transfer of innovative seed and energy technologies(Para 102); and


·        modalities and procedures of the compliance committeeshould review implementation and recommend specific steps for enhanced international cooperation (Para 104).


SBSTA has an important role in determining the context of ‘sustainable development and eradication of poverty’ and the flexibility in implementation based on differentiated responsibilities and capacities and national circumstances will have to be incorporated in the guidelines. This role includes unresolved political elements - how assessments of the IPCC will inform the stocktake in the context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty (Para 101) by identifying how methodological choices impact on the policy debate;framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development in Art 6.8 (Para 40) to focus on modalities for joint development and sharing of specific seed and renewable energy technologies.


Since objections even were raised by developed countries on a clear definition of what climate finance consists of, STA will determine modalities for accounting financial resources in Art 9.7 (Para 58) along with elaboration of the technology framework (Para68) to focus on financing for technologies ready for transfer and the barriers, along with identifying the information needed (Art 10.5, 10,6 and Para 56) for setting the new collective quantified finance goal in 2018 (Para 54).


The adaptation efforts still need to be recognized “in accordance with modalities to be adopted”, and the Adaptation Committee will determine the nature of and needs of developing countries in the stocktakeand the specific weightage to be given to the impacts on sustainable development and eradication of poverty (Art 7.3, 7.4, 7.6 and Para 42) and the methodology for assessing adaptation needs (Para43.b) and reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation and support referred to in Art 7.14.c (Para 46.b). 


The SBI will support international cooperation based on assessments with respect to issues in the Convention that have not yet been adequately addressed. They include the modalities and procedures for the operation and use of the Public Registry in Art 4.12 (Para 29), which should include the nationally determined contributions and the long term national strategies(Para 36), rather than just have them published on the UNFCCC website. The SBI is also to determine the scope and modalities of the periodic assessment of technology development and transfer in para 70for the stocktake (Para 71), and guide capacity building activities.


The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement is to develop modalities for the global stocktaking (Para  102) and this should include consideration of the long term strategies, per capita incomes and emissions as well as emissions since at least  1990 (preferably 1950)  to assess how the carbon budget is being used by countries. These modalities will also incorporate how the other five mandated outputs from other bodies are to be considered in the stocktake for  developing a global action plan that requires technology research, development and transfer for all the four basic energy sectors (transportation, industry, residential and commercial, and electricity) to meet the ‘emissions gap’ identified in the ‘facilitative dialogue’ in 2018.


This interlocked set of guidelines covers areas where the Convention, negotiated in 1992, has evolved to start a dialogue on how to make the transition to sustainable development. While the subsequent reviews, stocktaking, compliance and interaction with non-State actors will determine the template for international cooperation the dialogue in 2018 will provide clarity how national contributions will meet the ‘emissions gap’.


Meeting the ‘Emissions Gap’ requires fairness and ambition


In 2018, there will be a ‘facilitative dialogue’ to take stock of the collective mitigation efforts of countries and it will shape future national contributions. For example, while China has indicated a peaking date of 2030, the United States and the European Union have not indicated any date for rapidly reaching the zero-emission level.Studies show that the current pledges of developing countries go far beyond their “fair share” of responsibilities for addressing climate change.


The Decision accompanying the Agreement introduces the notion of concentration of emissions in the atmosphere and sharing the global carbon budget. It notes, in para 17 that for a 2°C pathway 2030 emissions would need to be reduced from 55 giga tonnes so far pledged by countries down to 40 giga tonnes. Intense deliberations can be expected onwhether emissions should be defined as current emissions and percentage reductions, in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol, or emissions over a period of time, in accordance with the definition of Emissions in the Convention and the Objective of the Convention, which is recognised in the Agreement, whichconsiders concentration of emissions and not absolute or current emissions. All these elements should be mandatory elements in each of the national contributions.


There is also a distinction between mitigation pledges and aggregate emission pathways consistent with holding the increase in the global average temperature, and it is the latter that concerns the stocktake and the dialogue in 2018. Initially, the trajectory of emissions since 1990, which have already been verified by the secretariat, should be provided to the ‘facilitative dialogue’ and to the stocktaking under Article 11, and later extended to 1950, to cover two-third of total global emissions since the Industrial Revolution. We also know that contributions to current global emissions differ widely - China (27 per cent), the United States (15 per cent), the European Union (10 per cent), and India (7 per cent). Two-third of global emissions occurred after 1950, one-third after 1990 and, for example, at the time of peaking in 2005, US emissions were about 15 percent above their 1990 level. In the absence of allocation criteria the stocktaking should consider how the carbon budget is being used to operationalise fairness.


Per-capita emissions also need to be considered as they best reflect the requirement of comparing different national circumstances and capacities or stages and type of development. In 2014 the world emitted 4.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person and staying below 2°C means reducing that to 4.5 tonnes by 2020, and then to 0.5 tonnes by 2050. It is possible to reduce emissions by modifying some trends without affecting wellbeing in general. Weknow that countries with similar standards of living assessed in terms of income, life expectancy, education and health care have very different levels of per-capita emissions. In the United States each person was responsible, on average, for 17 tonnes of carbon dioxide; Japan emitted fewer than 10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person; and, the European Union 6.6 tonnes.Consequently, the Agreement provides for emissions decreasing sharply after peaking as these countries have a greater capacity than countries which have yet to eradicate poverty.


Aggregate stocktaking for enhanced international cooperation


Beginning in 2023, and every five years afterwards, the COP is to “take stock of the implementation of this Agreement to assess the collective progress towards achieving” it’s Purpose and the long term goals, in the “light of equity and the best available science” (Art 14). Therefore, equity should be integrated in the science itself rather than treat it as an add-on later.


The criteria to adopt for considering ‘equity’ will be one of the most contentious. This should be related to national circumstances. One indicator is transport emissions, which are the fastest growing emissions worldwide, and directly related to national circumstances. For example, the United States has eight times the number of automobiles than India with one-third the population. A similar ratio is found in terms of per-capita emissions (eight times) and per-capita incomes (nine times in PPP terms). Clearly, per-capita data is an effective and objective indicator that links national circumstances, capacities and equity.


The Paris deal does not represent a transformational change in the global efforts to meet the challenge of climate change. It only modifies how countries approach the problem, and it is still not clear what a low-carbon world would look like. By putting solutions at the heart of the debate, attention now turns to distribution issues and to the obstacles and policy choices.

[1]Former Director United Nations Climate Change Secretariat.


[2]Defined by the IPCC as ‘Sustainable development (SD): Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987).



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