Meeting international UNFCCC agreements

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By Elena Sofia Massacesi, Core Writers’ Group

The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) entered into force in 1994 to mitigate the anthropological impact on climate change. The treaty is one of two treaties signed during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit along with the Convention on Biological Diversity. Given the intersectionality of climate change, biological diversity and desertification, the United Nations Joint Liaison Group works to push for cooperation on overlapping challenges between the two Rio Earth Summit treaties and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification. At the centre of the UNFCCC framework lies the common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) principle, which requires countries to take initiatives based on their capacity. This capacity is usually categorised by how long the country has been industrialised (their role in creating/worsening climate change), and their level of current industrialisation (their current contribution).

The UNFCCC is the parent treaty of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement is the most advanced treaty to date and the primary way of measuring a state’s progress towards the global UNFCCC goal, and it was signed by 194 parties (193 states plus the European Union). Its primary aim is to prevent a global temperature increase of more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels within this century, endeavouring to restrict the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius or less.

However, no state appears to have met the target. The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) research group analysed 40 countries’ progress prior to COP26 in Glasgow and found that although 27 submitted or proposed a stronger NDC Target, none were compatible with reaching the Agreement’s 1.5 degrees Celsius target.

The 2022 UNFCCC Synthesis Report nevertheless indicates some promising insights on the effectiveness of the Paris Agreement’s monitoring system and the road ahead. The report states that, in line with their monitoring commitment, Parties reported their mitigation objectives or the benefits achieved from reducing emissions through adaptation measures and economic diversification initiatives. Most Parties are also operating on a synchronised timeline, with 92% of states setting their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) for a 2030 implementation period. Parties also appear to be looking at NDCs as a firmer commitment than before: 32% of the parties now set qualitative limits on their use of voluntary cooperation, marking a 13% increase from their 2021 NDCs.

Even if the targets are not on track to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, the Synthesis Report provides a comparatively positive outlook on future emission levels given the new NDCs. If the NDCs and their conditional elements are implemented, then there is a stronger possibility of global emissions peaking before 2030. Nonetheless, the international efforts needed to fulfil the conditional elements remains an obstacle to achieving the 2030 peak. The report lists the requirements for the conditional implementations as:

- Access to enhanced financial resources

- Technology transfer

- Technical cooperation

- Capacity building support

- Availability of market-based mechanisms

- Absorptive capacity of forests and other ecosystems

The report concludes with a similar tone as the Climate Action Tracker’s findings: Parties must both increase their level of ambition in future NDCs and implement their existing ones if they aim to stay below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target.

The Climate Action Tracker reports drastic differences of NDC ambition within the same regions. Although the CAT finds no Party is classed as “1.5℃ Paris compatible”, Costa Rica falls in the group of nations that are comparatively the most ready to meet the target. The Central American state increased the ambition of its 2020 NDC, leading the CAT to give it an overall rating of “Almost Sufficient” in being consistent with the Paris Agreement goals on the grounds that although it is on track to reach the 1.5 degree celsius target through national reforms, it lacks the international policies that would help set the region on the right path. Rand researchers found that Costa Rica’s NDP sets it on track to meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 in over 75% of the scenarios they modelled.

The CAT December 2022 classification for Mexico is “Critically Insufficient” — the other end of the six-tier spectrum from Costa Rica. This classification is a result of Mexico’s decrease in ambition following President Obrador’s prioritisation of fossil fuels, plans to build new oil refineries and dissolution of the institutions in charge of climate change governance (INECC, IMTA, Conagua). Mexico does not have a carbon neutrality target, and its 2030 carbon dioxide emissions are expected to be 89% above their 1990 levels — a clear violation of both the Paris Agreement and its previous commitments in the Kyoto Protocol.

The following table shows a summary of the structure of the two treaties under the UNFCCC, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement. Though the Paris Agreement now supersedes the Kyoto Protocol, the latter set many of the precedents for global negotiations on climate change.

Elena Sofia Massacesi is part of the European Horizons Core Writer’s team. She currently studies Politics and International Relations at University College London (UCL). Her areas of interest include climate change policy, democracy in Europe, and global migration.

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The European Horizons Editorial Board
Transatlantic Perspectives.

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