Paris Agreement signed. Now what?

Monday, 2 May, 2016 - 15:09

A record number of more than 170 nations attended the signing ceremony of the Paris Climate Agreement (PA) at the United Nations headquarters in New York on April 22.

The event was a significant one, because despite the fact that countries adopted the text of the Paris Agreement during the COP21 back in December 2015, the Agreement is not yet fully implemented. The PA was a necessary step forward because a country’s signature on the agreement initiates the critical domestic process, on which depends its final entry into force.

Countries present at the signing ceremony included major carbon emitters like the U.S., China and India, as well as many tropical forest countries including Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Brazil.

In order for the Agreement to enter into full force, formal and legal ratification by at least 55 nations comprising 55 percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions is necessary. One possible feasible scenario, for example, would involve the combined support of China, the U.S., Canada, Russia, India, Indonesia and Brazil (who cumulatively account for more than 55 percent of emissions today).

Signing the Agreement however, should not be confused with the legal requirement of ratification. In many countries, ratification will require domestic political processes within parliaments to occur. In some circumstances, this could take years.

Walking the talk

Yet positive prospects have emerged that the deal could become operational prior to the target year of 2020. This stems partially from apparent moves afoot in the U.S. to ratify the Agreement prior to the end of the Obama administration out of concerns that a new Republican administration would be unlikely to push it through. It is important to note that while the U.S. signed the Kyoto Protocol (KP), it was never ratified afterwards.

However, a much slower process is expected within the European Union (EU), which faces serious challenges in terms of ratifying the Agreement early. All EU member states need to go through separate domestic ratification procedures, as well as the allocations of emissions reduction shares. The amount of time that this will take is unknown – possibly up to two years – and raises concerns that the PA will come into force prior to the ratification of the EU. This would leave the EU in the difficult position of only having limited participation entitlements.

Meanwhile, signals from more vulnerable countries have been positive. Several among them have already ratified the PA, with leadership taken by Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Palau and the Maldives. These ratifications have occurred despite controversial calls by some members of civil society for vulnerable countries to hold off on ratification as a means of creating more leverage within ongoing climate negotiations, in particular those related to finance.

While high-level politics played out at the signature ceremony, the climate negotiations themselves continue on. The parties will meet this May in Bonn, Germany, to commence a series of new work programs, complete ongoing work and move towards implementation of the PA.

The pressure to achieve a new climate treaty is now off, and important new and old topics concerning land use and forests are taking center stage. The core message now is implementation.

Round 1: Post-Paris negotiations

The first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA 1) will take place from 16-26 May in Bonn, Germany alongside the usual mid-year session of the Subsidiary Bodies to the UNFCCC. Here’s a list of important considerations to ensure that this seminal event advances the ambitions and scope of the crucial climate agreement.

  1. The role of land and forests in achieving the target of below 2 or 1.5 degrees:

As a result of the PA mitigation goal, negative emissions and land-based sinks are more prominent than ever. This highlights the importance of conserving and enhancing natural forests and other ecosystems, as well as halting deforestation and reducing degradation. More science is needed on the topic, but concerns are being raised concerning land availability, impact on food security and the over-reliance on non-existent negative emissions technologies. How the UNFCCC will address this topic in its efforts to achieve the new long-term goal remains the most significant unknown.

  1. From INDCs to NDCs:

One of the most important elements of the process towards implementation of the PA will be the transition from INDCs to NDCs. Around 100 countries have included LULUCF in their INDC and some 40 countries include REDD+. The PA has laid out a process related to INDC ‘Information’ and ‘Features’, as the current INDCs are not comparable and thus difficult to measure.

Some guidance has already been provided, but it will be necessary to continue identifying gaps, analyze the content of the INDCs and fill visible gaps. Another important space to watch in terms of consistency of information will be between the INDCs / NDCs and the ‘Country Program’ being developed to enable countries to access the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

  1. The Global Stocktake and the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue:

The Facilitative Dialogue in 2018 is attracting a lot of attention, with high expectations that it will provide a form of review. However, what this all means is rather unclear. The current ambition of the INDCs is widely recognized as too low.

Many hope that the 2018 event will present an occasion where countries can increase their ambition. It is expected that land and forests will be among the topics to be discussed at the Dialogue. Should this be the case, the recent decision at the IPCC for the production of a Special Report concerning the 1.5 degree goal, as well as on land use and food security, will no doubt play an important role in this discussion.

  1. Land use accounting and transparency:

The Paris Agreement puts in place a work program that will occur under the Ad Hoc Working Group under the Paris Agreement (APA) to establish a ‘common system’ of transparency of action and support by 2018, which will include land-use accounting and reporting resulting in a new MRV system.

For many years, criticisms have been raised around the KP LULUCF accounting rules on the basis that they enable developed countries to selectively choose (or hide) their emissions. A comprehensive, land based, all-inclusive approach to accounting is preferred by many. How such an approach can interact with the current rules concerning REDD+ will need to be addressed.

  1. Human rights and climate change:

One of the major outcomes of the PA was the inclusion of human rights in its Preamble. Some expect there to be moves made in Bonn by certain countries for the development of a work program related to human rights and climate change.

When the topic is considered together with concerns related to the ‘net zero’ long-term goal, we can expect important issues concerning land use, migration, rights of indigenous peoples and local communities and food security to form a part of this work. This would open up important new areas of discussion within the UNFCCC that have not been adequately addressed before.

  1. Operationalizing indigenous knowledge:

Another possible new work program that is being called for is operationalizing the adaptation Article provisions concerning ‘indigenous knowledge’. This topic is crucial to forests and the implementation of REDD+, as well as other mitigation and adaptation actions.

Such a work program would have particular relevance to the work being undertaken at the GCF concerning its REDD+ results-based payments framework, as well the ongoing agriculture work programin the SBSTA that will address adaptation measures and indigenous knowledge systems.

  1. The Clean Development Mechanism and the Sustainable Development Mechanism and Markets:

Additional land use activities and the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) remains on the agenda with a special LULUCF workshop to be organized on the subject in May. It will be equally important to watch the development of these negotiations in the context of the new Sustainable Development Mechanism (SDM) established by the PA. It is expected that the SDM will replace the CDM, with a wider scope on issues like adaptation mitigation synergies and land use.

Questions as to whether REDD+ will form a part of the SDM and what rules and safeguards will be applied remain. An important discussion will be the way in which the ‘ecosystems integrity’ provisions in the new Agreement are developed as distinct from ‘environmental integrity’. One can also expect the controversial topic of REDD+ offsets to emerge, likely in the context of the recent negotiations within theaviation industry, which will need to avoid undermining the target of 1.5 degrees and phasing out fossil fuels.

  1. Synergies between mitigation and adaptation:

Mitigation and adaptation linkages and synergies are included throughout the PA. The most obvious reference is Article 5. The other notable references are contained in the final REDD+ Decisions. Resilience is linked to low emissions development throughout the text and the Preamble seeks to establish that mitigation actions should not compromise rights or undermine ecosystems integrity. The adaptation and mitigation long-term goals (Articles 4 and 7) could be interpreted in a way that ensures actions to achieve one do not undermine the other.

Article 4.7 provides that ‘mitigation co-benefits resulting from Parties’ adaptation actions can contribute to mitigation outcomes’. Linkages and synergies between adaptation and mitigation are also well established in the GCF. The PA and the GCF have now opened the policy space within the UNFCCC processes for new work on the subject, possibly through the non-markets work program.

  1. Pre-2020 efforts:

The technical examination and technical expert processes intended to close the gaps will be ongoing and will continue to focus on thematic areas, including land use. What is achieved pre-2020 will be critical in terms of whether the goal of below 2 or 1.5 degrees can be achieved.

There are a myriad of useful 2020 targets, as well as corporate supply chain zero deforestation commitments to draw from. Other related processes include the Aichi targets under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Sustainable Development Goals that seek to halt deforestation by 2020, and the Bonn Challenge that seeks to restore 150 million hectares of deforested and degraded lands by 2020.

At COP21 in Paris, it was agreed to strengthen the pre-2020 action in the UNFCCC through such measures such as broader engagement with non-state actors, which includes the private sector and enhanced technological exchanges through mechanisms like the Climate Technology Center Network (CTCN).

  1. Finance for forests and the Green Climate Fund:

Mobilising finance for REDD+ implementation has gained traction over recent years as the Framework has edged closer to completion. COP21 confirmed that the GCF would play a central role in the implementation of the Agreement and the Standing Committee on Finance provided direction to the GCF to do more on this topic.

At its 12th Board Meeting in Incheon, South Korea in March, the GCF agreed that it would operationalize its results-based payments system later this year, as well as put in place measures concerning JMA and enhance private sector engagement. The GCF is currently undertaking informal stakeholder consultations on these topics in an effort to develop the appropriate policy frameworks and guidelines. The next phase is expected to occur in Bonn this May.

The political signals provided recently in New York are useful, however, the devil will, as always, be in the details. We can expect a similar situation to the KP and the development of what became the Marrakesh Accords.

Since the climate agreement was reached in Paris at COP21, the impact has been profound. The discourse has shifted towards implementation, and we have moved into a practical discussion addressing responses to how, as opposed to simply what or why.

We now have an understanding of the policy framework in which we must work. We can clearly identify the research needed and should ensure we have a targeted evidence base to support the new policy work required at both the international and the national level.

The upcoming meeting in Bonn this May will be extremely important as it will establish the work programs and define the topics and the mechanics required to implement what is widely considered as ‘the agreement that was the best we could get, yet still not good enough’.

The good news is the opportunity to transform the PA into something ‘good enough’ exists.

For more information on this topic, please contact Stephen Leonard at
This research forms part of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry.
Work regions: 
Mountain Ranges: 

Facebook comments