New publication: How Can the New Climate Agreement Support Robust National Mitigation Targets? Opportunities up to Paris and beyond

The international community is negotiating a new global climate agreement to be applicable from 2020 onwards. A new report by Ecofys, Climate Analytics, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), the NewClimate Institute, the Öko-Institut and the Wuppertal Institute analyses options for the following design elements: Participation and differentiation of countries; Types of commitments, including also the compulsory character of the commitments and time aspects; Guidance on ambition of the commitments to assure adequacy of global and individual countries’ efforts; Transparency of commitments.

While the negotiation process is already far advanced, opportunities for the process to strengthen the robustness of mitigation commitments continue to exist – inside and outside the UNFCCC negotiation process.

Some examples for opportunities found in this report are:

  • Allow for self-differentiation in the type of commitment and level of ambition, but provide independent methodological guidance so that countries better understand mitigation options and how their capability and responsibility relates to that of other countries. Self-differentiation should further be limited through the rule of no backsliding.
  • Establish a common end-point to guarantee long-term adequacy of the commitments, independently of current country circumstances. Gradual convergence to a common level can also be an element of the accounting framework.
  • Create a framework to integrate actions by non-government actors. International Cooperative Initiatives can contribute significantly to mitigation, but should present an effect beyond already on-going national activities to increase ambition.

New publication: UNFCCC before and after Paris – what’s necessary for an effective climate regime?

My colleagues Lukas Hermwille, Hermann Ott, Christiane Beuermann and I just published a new article in Climate Policy.

The article is available free of charge for a limited time here.

What can reasonably be expected from the UNFCCC process and the climate conference in Paris 2015? To achieve transformative change, prevailing unsustainable routines embedded in socio-economic systems have to be translated into new and sustainable ones. This article conceptualizes the UNFCCC and the associated policy processes as a catalyst for this translation by applying a structurational regime model. This model provides an analytical distinction of rules (norms and shared meaning) and resources (economic resources as well as authoritative and allocative power) and allows us to conceptualize agency on various levels, including beyond nation states. The analysis concludes that the UNFCCC’s narrow focus on emission targets, which essentially is a focus on resources, has proven ineffective. In addition, the static division of industrialized and developing countries in the Convention’s annexes and the consensus-based decision-making rules have impeded ambitious climate protection. The article concludes that the UNFCCC is much better equipped to provide rules for climate protection activities and should consciously expand this feature to improve its impact.

Policy relevance

The international community is negotiating a new global climate agreement, to be adopted at the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in December 2015 in Paris and to be applicable from 2020. This article analyses the successes and limitations the UNFCCC has had so far in combating climate change and it develops recommendations on how to enhance efforts within and beyond the framework of the Convention. From our analysis we derive two main recommendations for an effective and structurationally balanced treaty: First, multidimensional mitigation contributions going beyond emission targets could strongly improve countries’ abilities to tailor their contributions around national political discourses. Second, the UNFCCC regime should be complemented with another treaty outside of the UNFCCC framework. This ‘Alliance of the Ambitious’ would allow the pioneers of climate protection to move ahead and enjoy the benefits of cooperation. The dynamics generated through such a club approach could be fed back into the UNFCCC, leading to increased ambition by others in future commitment cycles.


New publication: Mitigation Commitments and Fair Effort Sharing in a New Comprehensive Climate Agreement Starting 2020

Ecofys, Climate Analytics, the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, the NewClimate Institute, the Oeko-Institute and the Wuppertal Institute have published a new report on effort sharing in the new climate agreement to be adopted at the Paris Conference in December 2015 and to be applied starting in 2020.

Countries’ mitigation contributions are one central element in the negotiations. By the end of October 2015, 128 Parties had submitted their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs), reflecting 155 countries, and covering around 87% of global emissions and 88% of global population.

Ever since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was agreed upon, the level of ambition as well as the fair balance between parties has been the linchpin of negotiations. How can negotiations ensure that aggregate action by parties suffices to achieve the jointly agreed goal to limit warming below 2°C – or even 1.5°C as called for by the most vulnerable countries, in light of current science? How can a fair and equitable distribution of effort be enshrined in the agreement? How to move forward action on mitigation and adaption, and reconcile this with the pursuit of countries’ development aspirations and needs?

While the process of INDC submissions showed that most countries are to some extent willing to contribute to climate change mitigation, it was not possible yet to include a centralised assessment of country contributions. The level of ambition of contributions as well as the establishment of an assessment and review process will remain to be in the center of negotiations at the Paris Conference.

Against this background, the new report offers deliberations on what a “fair share” of mitigation in 2025 and 2030 could be. It shows, for a selection of ten countries – Brazil, China, the European Union (EU), India, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, South Africa, and the United States of America (USA) – , how their respective INDCs perform if related to different fair share approaches and effort sharing models. These assessments also take into account national mitigation potential and costs and the wider context of socio-economic development of the countries. Finally, current policies and politics of each country are included in the assessments.

New Publication: Role of Market Mechanisms in Intended Nationally Determined Contributions

Market mechanisms – the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Joint Implementation (JI) and Art. 17 emission trading – have been a central feature of the Kyoto Protocol. The shape of the new climate change agreement to adopted at this year’s climate change conference in Paris is emerging only slowly, including the role market mechanisms will play. In order to assess the potential scope of market mechanisms in the Paris agreement, this new JIKO Policy Brief surveys the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to the new agreement which countries have so far submitted. The paper is now available for download.

Publication: The Road to Paris: Road Work and New Horizons

An Assessment of the Climate Conference in Lima (COP20 / CMP10) and the Prospects of COP21 / CMP11

by Hermann Ott, Wolfgang Obergassel, Christof Arens, Lukas Hermwille, Florian Mersmann and Hanna Wang-Helmreich

This paper analyses the results of the climate conference in Lima 2014 in the light of the coming climate summit in Paris by the end of this year (COP21). The authors from the Wuppertal Institute make recommendations for the improvement of the current cooperation in the context of the climate convention and they suggest to complement the existing UN regime with a club of forerunner countries in order to provide new breath for international climate policy.

Publication: Does the Climate Regime Need New Types of Mitigation Commitments?

This journal article by me and Lukas Hermwille is now available for download from the Wuppertal Institute’s publication server.

Apart from the much-debated question of what legal form the 2015 climate agreement is supposed to have, another core issue is the substantive content of countries’ commitments. While the climate regime has so far mostly been based on emission targets, literature has identified a broad range of other possible types of mitigation commitments, such as technology targets, emission price commitments, or commitments to specific policies and measures (PAMs). The nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) submitted by developing countries under the Cancún Agreements also show a broad range of different forms of participation. This article surveys the possible commitment types that have so far been discussed in literature and in the UNFCCC negotiations and assesses their respective advantages and disadvantages against a set of criteria: environmental effectiveness, cost effectiveness, distributional aspects and institutional feasibility. The article finds that no commitment option provides a silver bullet. All options have several advantages but also disadvantages. The environmentally most effective way forward may lie in pursuing a multi-dimensional approach, combining emission targets with other commitment types to compensate for the drawbacks of the emission-based approach.

New Publication: Transformative Potential of the New Market Mechanism

by Lukas Hermwille, myself and Christof Arens

There is general agreement that preventing dangerous climate change requires a fundamental transformation of the global economy. Regarding carbon markets, the EU, for example, has called for the new market-based mechanism (NMM) to be established under the UNFCCC to “facilitate transition towards low carbon economy and attract further international investment” (EU 2012). Our paper discusses the transformative potential of the NMM and how it should be structured to maximize transformative impact.

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New Publication: Human Rights and the Clean Development Mechanism

The 2010 UN climate conference in Cancún emphasized that ‘Parties should, in all climate change related actions, fully respect human rights’. However, so far there is no further guidance. This article in the Cambridge Review of International Affairs discusses the relevant legal human rights norms and two case studies from the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The first case (Bajo Aguán, Honduras) shows that the current absence of any international safeguards can lead to registration of highly problematic projects. The second case (Olkaria, Kenya) suggests that safeguards, introduced here as a side effect of World Bank involvement, can have a positive impact, but that it is necessary to have them based on human rights. It therefore seems recommendable that the UN climate regime develop mandatory human rights safeguards. In addition or alternatively, individual buyer countries or groups of countries, such as the European Union, could introduce their own additional requirements for CDM projects.

The article is available for free download for a limited time here.

Other Name, Same Person

Sheesh, what a year. I’ve gotten married and adopted my wife’s name. So if you see anything by a guy called Wolfgang Obergassel, that’s me. I’m curious to see how long word will take to get around.

New Publication: At Snails’ Pace on the Road to Paris – Wuppertal Assessment of the Lima Climate Summit

This year’s annual United Nations Climate Change Conference had been scheduled from 1 to 12 December in Lima/Peru. While in the run-up to the conference, China and the US in a surprise bilateral move had announced plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions that exceeded expectations, the conference was characterised once again by a deep division between key players from the former so-called “developed” and “developing” world. The negotiations thus took 32 hours longer than planned and ended on Sunday morning at 1.22 am. More importantly, the conference failed almost completely to resolve the tasks it was supposed to do in order to prepare the last round of negotiations before next year’s conference in Paris 2015, which is supposed to deliver a comprehensive future climate agreement. A team of researchers from the Wuppertal Institute attended the conference and have compiled a first assessment of the results, which you can download here.