TOWARDS COPENHAGEN - 5: Blueprint for a 'big picture' agreement at climate talks

Posted: 23 November 2009

It is now accepted that a legally binding treaty to tackle climate change will not be agreed in Copenhagen in December. But there is still hope that a political settlement will be agreed in preparation for a comprehensive, and legally binding treaty in 2010, once the United States has passed the domestic legislation necessary to commit to a final target and timetable for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Just what such a political pact in Copenhagen might include has been analysed by the World Resources Institute and is summarised here.

In December 2009, twenty thousand people, including about 60 heads of state, will converge in Copenhagen to decide how the world responds to escalating climate change over the next half century.

Part of the Maldives archipelago, under threat from sea rise.© D Sanson/Panos Pictures
Part of the Maldives archipelago, under threat from sea rise.© D Sanson/Panos Pictures
Part of the Maldives archipelago under threat from sea rise© D. Sansoni/Panos Pictures
If successful, the meeting of 192 member countries of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will send a clear signal to business and industry, governments and citizens around the world. Commitments made and mechanisms agreed could signal that the future belongs to a low-carbon economy and that tomorrow's winners will be those that invest in clean energy solutions. It will also set in motion swift support for the most vulnerable in adapting to a warming world.

It now seems quite likely that the summit will conclude in a series of decisions that will lock in progress made so far, together with a political declaration that a final agreement, to be negotiated next year, will be legally binding.

Such a high-level declaration would contain a set of substantive agreements in the form of targets and timetables from developed countries and emission reduction actions by developing countries. Financial commitments from the former to support the latter in their mitigation and adaptation efforts between now and 2020 must also be included.

The key elements for a positive outcome in Copenhagen are outlined below.

Big picture

Under a 'big picture agreement' the world will set a goal to keep global average temperature below 1.5-2 degrees Celsius in comparison with pre-industrial levels. This is in line with the best scientific guidance which warns that greater warming will spawn increasingly dangerous and unpredictable impacts. To limit temperature rise, countries also agree to reduce global emissions by at least 50 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Per capita CO2 emissions
Per capita CO2 emissions
Per capita CO2 emissions for select major emitters, 2007 and 2030 (projected).
Developed countries as a group - including the United States, 27 European Union countries, Japan, Australia, Canada and Russia - would commit to reducing emissions by at least 80 per cent by 2050. These countries would also commit to cutting collective emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020.

Additionally, each developed country would also commit to an economy-wide 2020 emission reduction target (known as a Quantified Emission Reduction Commitment or QERC) and an emissions pathway through 2030. These national targets could be in the form of a range until the final legally binding instrument(s) is agreed in 2010.

Developing countries would agree to take nationally appropriate climate mitigation actions that will reduce emissions significantly (e.g., 15 to 30 per cent) below business-as-usual levels by 2020. African, Asian and Latin American governments could implement emission reduction policies and measures in all major economic sectors, including forestry (deforestation is responsible for 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions).

Some large developing countries that are major economic players and substantial greenhouse gas emitters, such as China, Brazil, and Mexico also would agree to individual non-binding goals to curb national emissions within the range. The amount of financial support that developed countries come up with will fundamentally determine the level of action to which developing countries are prepared to commit.

Country actions and commitments would be reflected in long-term nationally appropriate low-carbon planning processes.

Sound foundation

For these commitments to form the basis of an effectively functioning agreement, a framework of international climate machinery needs to be built around them. This will require a COP decision mandating that negotiations conclude in a legally binding instrument that contains the following specified mechanisms and institutions.

Country commitments for a successful Copenhagen outcome
Country commitments for a successful Copenhagen outcome
Country commitments for a successful Copenhagen outcome.
All countries' commitments and actions would be formally registered at Copenhagen which requires creation of an official registry or schedule. These could be amended post-Copenhagen only in order to make them more ambitious. Support pledged by developed countries for developing country actions would also be included.

It will also be vital to set directly comparable international standards. When the post-2012 international climate agreement comes into effect, it is critical that countries employ both common methodologies to track greenhouse gas emissions and common international accounting standards. Without such rules, comparing emission reduction actions taken by different countries will be like comparing apples and oranges. Such rules will also be important to enable a global carbon market to operate effectively and help drive down the cost of climate change mitigation.

The agreement would therefore include common international accounting and reporting standards for countries taking on targets in four key areas:

  • comprehensive reporting and review of national GHG emissions;

  • common standards for quantifying, reporting, and reviewing emission reductions, including from changes in land use, land-use change, and forestry;

  • common standards for national GHG registries and

  • common methodologies for estimating emission reductions from developing country projects or programs funded by developed countries (known as offsets).

Measuring to manage

A robust mechanism to measure, report and verify the commitments and actions that countries agree to take is critical to promote trust between nations, and to ensure that promised greenhouse gas reductions actually materialize. This would include deployment of expert review teams to assess country efforts. Delivery of the support that developed countries pledge to developing countries would also be measured, reported and verified. An Implementation Committee would be established, providing a forum for expert review teams to share findings with countries.

The UNFCCC Conference of the Parties could be mandated to encourage countries to meet their obligations and empowered to find a country out of compliance. Tools to encourage compliance could include possible suspension of a country's rights and privileges under the agreement.

Scientific review

It is critically important that the Copenhagen agreement remains consistent with the latest science on climate change. This will require institutionalized reviews to help ensure that countries' collective commitments meet the objectives the world has set.

The first of these would review countries' efforts in light of the latest IPCC review of science in 2014. Further emergency reviews could be triggered by a group of countries if new scientific evidence warrants swifter attention than scheduled in the agreement.

Developing countries

No deal will emerge from Copenhagen, or subsequently, without significant commitments of financial, technology and capacity building support from industrialized to developing countries.

This requires two decisions. The first is a fast start fund to help the poorest countries respond to the existing destructive impacts of climate change on lives and livelihoods and build capacity to act. The second is a decision to create the post-2012 financial architecture and identify sources of funds. WRI views the following mechanisms and support frameworks as a workable solution.

Climate finance

A new financial mechanism created in Copenhagen could establish a single fund with four components - adaptation, technology, mitigation and forestry. The most vulnerable countries would have direct and expedited access to this money, which would have robust transparency and accountability rules attached.

Developed and developing countries would be equally represented on the fund's governing boards, which would fall under the authority of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC. The financial mechanism could include a role for existing but reformed international financial institutions.

There would be four components of a climate finance mechanism.

  • Fast start fund This new mechanism would be immediately operational with annual prompt start funding of $10 to $15 billion pledged by developed countries in Copenhagen for adaptation and capacity building from 2010 through 2012.

  • Longer term funding Developed countries would commit to deliver substantially larger amounts by 2020, with a specific figure to be agreed upon in 2010. Sources could include domestic cap-and-trade programmes which provide set-asides for the public funds, and perhaps bunker fuel levies on international aviation and shipping. All countries would contribute to the fund - based on responsibility and ability to pay - except for the poorest and most vulnerable.

    Additional and predictable financing must be earmarked for climate change by industrialized countries, and not diverted from official development assistance budgets.

  • Forest support. Under the third funding element, for forest support, countries would agree to take and support actions that will significantly reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (known as REDD) in natural forest ecosystems by 2020.

    This would require agreement on the creation of a REDD mechanism at Copenhagen. This mechanism would initiate and direct performance-based financing that reflects the varied national circumstances and needs of individual developing countries.

    A first phase would channel financing for policies and measures leading to improvements in governance of forests that are necessary for countries both to achieve emission reductions and to provide credible emission reductions into an international system. A second (and possible subsequent) phase(s) would channel support for countries to achieve real, additional, verifiable and permanent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

    Reporting and verification components of the REDD mechanism would include tracking governance improvements and emission reductions. Impacts of activities on biodiversity and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities would also be monitored.

  • Technology support. This fourth new mechanism would seek to speed the deployment of clean energy and low-carbon technologies in developing countries. Countries would decide to double climate research and development funding by 2015 and include innovation and capacity building centres in developing countries. Countries would also create a mechanism to handle issues surrounding intellectual property rights.

In addition to the fast start funding, a new adaptation framework would be agreed at Copenhagen that promotes both immediate and long-term integrated action by all countries to adapt to the impacts generated by rising global temperatures. This would provide reliable adaptation support for all developing countries, with the most vulnerable first in line.

Assistance would support development of planning and review processes, building of institutional capacity, implementation of practical on-the-ground projects, and scaling up of action through international cooperation networks and initiatives.

Beyond Copenhagen

There are two tracks of talks under the UN negotiations, one within the UNFCCC and one within the Kyoto Protocol. Many countries (especially from the developing world) seek to maintain and strengthen the Kyoto Protocol while others, notably the United States, would prefer to work solely within the UNFCCC framework.

As a result, countries may fail to decide at Copenhagen on the final legal form of a binding new climate agreement. Specifically, they may not agree whether there will be one new legally binding agreement or two, with the Kyoto Protocol continuing for those that are parties to it and a separate agreement for others.

If this is the case, countries must set a date by which such an agreement will be concluded, and a clear, timely process to complete the negotiations. To be most effective, this should include continued involvement of ministers and heads of state and be focused in one track of negotiations to decide the final legal instrument(s).

To expedite this process, countries could decide in Copenhagen that two high level meetings of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC are needed next year. The first would be a continuation of COP 15 and take place in June 2010. The second would be the regular annual COP meeting in December in Mexico. If the key elements described above are put into place at Copenhagen, they would provide a springboard to conclude a new, long-term, and effective global climate agreement in 2010.

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