A little background for those who don’t follow the negotiations…
As some of may know, each country had to submit an intended nationally determined contribution or INDC that specifies their emissions reduction targets and in some cases other mitigation, adaptation and finance commitments. These pledges detail how much climate action each country will take in the coming decades.
For example, the United States has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 in 2025. Thus far, 157 INDCs have been submitted which represents 184 countries, 97% of the global population and 94% of global emissions in 2010. As analyzed by Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific analysis group, all of these commitments “lower projected warming to 2.7°C.”
But, to keep climate change from causing dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system, the UNFCCC has designated that the change in global temperature cannot be above 2°C (a somewhat arbitrary and contentious level because even with this cap, millions of lives could be lost and entire small island nations are at risk of disappearing).
Defining the ratcheting mechanism
The ratcheting mechanism is a method that allows countries to review and revise their climate commitments after a designated time period and ratchet up their contributions. It seems like an obvious provision to have in the negotiating text. Of course, we want something that forces countries to raise the ante. We cannot rely on this two-week madness of a conference to ensure that we are on the “right” path. But, over the past couple of days, I have witnessed how it has become much more than just having countries raise their mitigation ambition.
The actual format of the ratcheting mechanism is likely to be a debate to watch until the last minute or as one of the negotiators from the Marshall Islands mentioned, “before Star Wars day (Dec. 16).” But what does this ratcheting mechanism actually do? It can accomplish a variety of things, including:
- Make countries reevaluate and increase their emissions cuts
- Make countries report their progress on their pledges (increase transparency)
- Make countries revise their adaptation protocols based on technology and knowledge developments
- Make countries revise their finance commitments
Depending on which form or combination of these forms the ratcheting mechanism takes, it could be the key to solving climate change! Well, not really, BUT it could make a significant difference in the potency of the Paris Agreement if implemented correctly. It could ensure that progress will be made on carbon emission reduction. It could assure developing countries that they will get the help that they need to adapt and mitigate depending on their changing situations and needs. It could simply make sure that your neighbors are doing as much as they promised. Essentially, it could(?) catalyze essential progress. This explains why the debates surrounding the ratcheting mechanism will be critical and will most likely go to the last minute.
What and who is shaping this debate?
As with everything in a decision that involves multiple parties, let alone 196 member parties, there are vastly different points of view and reasoning surrounding this issue.
United States: The U.S. is one of the biggest proponents for a ratcheting mechanism. In President Obama’s speech on the opening day of COP21, he declared that the deal should be “transparent, have periodic reviews and have a mechanism to increase those targets over time.”
The administration claims that they want to ensure that everyone is meeting their targets. However, I suspect that there is another additional reason behind the US support (based on what we have heard from the speakers and from our own experience in our mock negotiations in class). It is a very effective negotiating technique.
One of our speakers (who is close to the US negotiations process…) mentioned that, “perfection is the enemy of good,” meaning that it is impossible to get a consensus if you reach for the ideal situation. Thus, the United States may see the ratcheting mechanism as a way to push off the most controversial topics and avoiding having to put pressure on nations to increase their ambition now (and coincidentally, remove pressure on themselves.) I don’t think that this is necessarily bad, but it is not part of their typical White House press releases.
Other Developed Countries: Most other developed countries have reluctantly come on board with the ratcheting mechanism. Their initial hesitance was because they certainly do not want to be asked to be too ambitious. They have already done “the most ambitious work possible”… This rhetoric has eroded a little and as a result, support for the ratcheting mechanism has risen.
Developing Countries: Developing countries generally support it if it helps raise adaptation and finance commitments. Small island nations would support any work that gets us as far below 1.5C as possible. Yet, for these nations, the ratcheting mechanism must be accompanied by financial and human resources support. Even putting together the first INDC was an extremely resource intensive activity and to repeat this process could exhaust their systems.
Businesses: Businesses support the ratcheting mechanism because it allows “stakeholders to capture innovation and best practices in climate mitigation.” I’ve heard that the private sector sometimes carries great influence in politics… I suspect that their support will help persuade “on the fence” developed countries.
What I’m watching for…
Over the past quarter and this week, our class has learned about the power of a couple of words in an international environmental agreement. They can influence the flow of money, inspire significant developmental and economic changes, and can fundamentally change the path of climate politics. The ratcheting mechanism, although just a piece of a lengthy agreement, could have tremendous influence. Hence why, the climate policy community will be following all of the updates with baited breath and start to think of the significant implications it could have on the long term.
If you’re curious about the actual text (which I know EVERYONE is), here are some pieces of the text on which you should keep an eye…
Is the ratcheting mechanism mentioned in Article 3 (Mitigation), Article 4 (Ambition), Article 6 (Finance) and Article 10 (Global Stocktake) and what language do they use?
- Article 3 Item 2, 3, 4, 6, 10,11, 12
- Article 4 Item 14
- Article 6, Item 10, 17, 18
- Article 10 Item 1, 2 and 3 (Note: As of today, December 5, the ADP officially decided on a timeline for periodic review and a start date)