Friday, December 3

What’s next at COP26? Here are some ways to move forward | View

UN climate conferences, or ‘COPs’, come and go, year after year. The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has just ended in Glasgow.

It has been a difficult COP, particularly due to COVID-19, although it yielded three successful results.

Increasing ambition

First, many countries have announced the five-year update of national climate commitments – ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ or NDC in the jargon – including the most ambitious long-term goals of all G20 countries.

That is important, as it confirms the functioning of the five-year “compromise and review” architecture of the Paris Agreement.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has suggested that, taken together and if fully implemented, the pledges would limit the rise in global average temperature to 1.8 ° C, which corresponds to the goal of ‘well below 2 ° C ‘referred to in the Paris Agreement.

The more ambitious goal of 1.5 ° C has been confirmed as the preferred long-term goal, even if most observers see it as a huge challenge.

It was also agreed to ‘review and strengthen’ the 2030 targets in the NDCs by the end of 2022 and accelerate efforts towards phasing out unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

The discussion must now move from making promises to keeping promises made, and shifting emissions paths toward zero within a time scale that will avoid the worst effects of altering the climate.

What makes it more difficult is that the process is based on voluntarism and peer pressure, with no binding penalties for non-compliance.

Not only are the promises self-determined, they can be repudiated without consequence, as the United States demonstrated when it withdrew from the Paris Agreement. Fortunately, the United States has since rejoined, but the process remains fragile.

Coalitions of the will

The second successful outcome was that to drive strengthened policies, groups of countries and companies announced several specific climate actions: reducing methane emissions, ending deforestation, greening private finances, and accelerating the phase-out of carbon, among others.

Although these voluntary commitments vary significantly in terms of scope, participation, and financial arrangements, they are really promising.

Some could serve as an example for the future, such as the one on the greening of the South African energy sector, with its indication of specific investments in renewable energy and concrete financing steps.

Strong methodologies are now needed to ensure these commitments are met, as making promises and resolutions is much easier than keeping them.

Specific climate action coalitions are welcome as they complement the Paris Agreement and can help strengthen the policies that countries now need to develop and implement.

Complete the Paris Agreement rule book

The third advantage is that the Paris Agreement rule book is now complete, as negotiations on transparency and international carbon markets (the ‘cooperative approaches’ of Article 6) have been finalized.

A new mechanism has been established, overseen by a newly created “supervisory body”. It is essential that this body learn from the experience of the CDM Executive Board established under the Kyoto Protocol, where lax standards and political interference led to an oversupply of credits of little financial and sometimes environmental value. . Now there is an opportunity to do better.

Increased amounts of climate finance will come from developed to developing countries in the near future, even if more generous specific commitments were expected.

However, the key question is not just how much money will be transferred, but how much public and private capital will be mobilized towards the massive amount of low-carbon investment needed, both for mitigation and adaptation, around the world.

A ‘middle way’ with edge settings

Nobel Prize winner Professor W. Nordhaus has criticized the Paris Agreement as inappropriate due to the absence of binding sanctions.

Instead, Nordhaus proposes the idea of ​​”carbon clubs.” Like-minded countries that want to be ambitious on climate action could agree to trade goods with each other without an additional climate charge, but imports to countries belonging to the club would have to pay a fee.

This would be justified on the basis that production costs should be equalized between production within the club and imports from abroad.

At one stroke, there would be an incentive to join the club and a consequence for not joining the club.

For the European Union, which unconditionally subscribes to the Paris Agreement and multilateralism in general, Nordhaus’s approach is to ask too much.

However, there is a middle way, which is embodied in how the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism is designed.

Imports into the EU of energy-intensive products would be subject to a charge aligned with what European producers of similar goods have to pay as a result of climate regulation.

Exemptions and rebates would apply to products from countries whose climate policies align with those of the EU, while those without comparable policies would be subject to the charge.

Such a mechanism would allow the EU to be ambitious, as is expected of the industrialized economies under the Paris Agreement.

The modalities and terms of the Carbon Frontier Adjustment Mechanism need to be elaborated in more detail and ensure that they are compatible with the rules of the World Trade Organization.

But the logic is compelling. While it is true that such adjustments are not explicitly provided for in the Paris Agreement, Europe’s greatest ambition will contribute to the common good.

Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice President of the European Commission, was busy at the COP explaining the rationale for the Border Carbon Adjustment Mechanism and managed to limit the animosity expected from some of Europe’s trading partners on this issue.

In fact, this instrument is necessary to prevent production from “escaping” from Europe and moving to jurisdictions with much less climate ambition, thus undermining the ultimate goals of the Paris Agreement.

As climate ambition increases and regulatory costs rise, as is inevitable for pioneers, the risk of carbon leakage increases. Simply displacing energy-intensive production is clearly not the answer.

The least developed countries, of course, can be properly allocated and the revenue raised can be used to help global efforts.

The EU proposal on the Carbon Frontier Adjustment Mechanism does not exclude the possibility that several countries together create a club.

If, for example, the EU, the US and China succeeded in creating a carbon club, it could open a promising avenue for greater climate ambition without fear of carbon leakage and create a strong incentive for other countries to join. .

A COP27 of ‘implementation’?

While countries are sovereign over the policies and actions they implement, perhaps future COPs could usefully consider implementation.

No country has a monopoly on good policy ideas and experiences, and every country is different. It is by exchanging good practices and comparing what works and what doesn’t, that effective measures can be implemented to reduce emission trajectories.

At COP27 in Egypt, countries will be asked to demonstrate that their policies for the next decade are aligned with their long-term goals.

Why not turn that COP from a traditional ‘Conference of the Parties’ into a ‘Policy Comparison’, focusing on implementation rather than objectives?

Jos Delbeke is the former director general of EU Climate Action, climate president of the European Investment Bank and professor at the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute. Peter Vis is a Senior Research Associate at the EUI School of Transnational Governance.

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