Commitment Cycles and the Ratchet Mechanism


Laying the Ground Work for Beyond Paris in Paris: Introducing Cycles and a Ratchet Mechanism

Parties will need to undertake major additional action beyond the INDCs if they wish to keep warming within 2˚C and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Towards this end, parties are currently considering whether to establish a regular schedule for revisiting international commitments for climate action. Within the current draft text, put together in Geneva and partially streamlined in Bonn, there are two concepts that have been designed to address this question: cyclical commitment and assessment periods that together could constitute a ratchet mechanism.

A ratchet mechanism is one way to make the Paris agreement durable and relevant over a long period of time. This mechanism would augment contributions offered at the Paris meetings with a process to promote post-Paris actions by both national and non-state actors in order to guide global action towards the 2˚C pathway.

What Purpose does a Ratchet Serve: Key Functions of Cycles and a Ratchet

A rachet built on regular, recurring cycles of assessment and a schedule for revisiting country commitments would serve two key functions. The assessments would establish how far a country’s actions have moved global emissions toward the 2˚C pathway, and the schedule for revisiting country commitments would provide a process to increase, over time, the ambition of the climate targets set by countries. A no-backsliding provision is another element proposed for inclusion into the rachet mechanism.

How are Countries Positioned on the Inclusion and Preferred Form of Cycles and a Ratchet

National positions on assessment and reviews cycles differ markedly. Several permutations exist for how to schedule cycles and build a ratchet mechanism. (In the draft ADP negotiating text, see Section D paragraph 19 and 21 and Section J paragraph 167 and 172.) Several negotiating parties have made a distinction between the length of the commitment cycle (the timespan in which a target should be achieved) and the length between assessments of progress towards that target, which may not operate on the same timeline.

Several developed countries have called for five-year assessment periods, with some advocating for longer commitment cycles. Simultaneously, several developing countries are pushing for a longer timeframe or for two different timeframes, a shorter one for developed countries and a longer one for developing countries. Currently, the United States and AOSIS support five-year cycles for both commitments and assessments. In a recent development, the EU, which had previously favored a 10-year commitment cycle with assessments every five years came forward in the August-September Bonn session and publicly endorsed regularly 5-year assessment  cycles starting in the year 2020. China and India had both been pushing for 10-year periods for both targets and assessments. However, consensus has been evolving towards 5-year cycles as a result of discussions in high-level ministerials meetings held throughout the summer and continuing into the Fall. Differing opinions on when to schedule the first assessment – whether in 2020, 2025, or after 2030 – still mark the negotiations and 5-year assessment cycles are becoming more likely but are still not fully baked into the emerging Paris agreement.

Another key question centers on the length of the first commitment period. While the U.S. submitted an INDCthat runs until 2025, the EU and China submitted INDCs that run until 2030. Some advocates have argued that locking in emissions policy until 2030 creates an unnecessary obstacle to reducing emissions by discouraging countries from taking advantage of any technical and economic changes that arrive over the next 15 years. These advocates argue that a 10-year outlook, as opposed to a 15-year span, is sufficient to provide the predictability called for by investors and planners.

On September 25 the U.S. and China Endorsed Common Language about a Ratchet

In the breakthrough announcement that the world’s two biggest emitters and largest economies made public on September 25th, both countries signed onto the following common language on a ratchet: “As part of their commitment to a successful and ambitious Paris outcome, the two countries articulated a set of shared understandings for the agreement, including onthe importance of a successful agreement that ramps-up ambition over time, pointing toward a low-carbon transformation of the global economy this century.”

While the joint statement put out by the governments of China and the U.S. does not specify how countries will ramp up the ambition in their pledges or what rules they will follow for deciding how much or how little to ramp up ambition the fact that both countries have formally committed to some form of increased ambition post-2030 is incredibly significant and means that it is almost guarantueed to feature in the Paris package.

Designing a Ratchet: Setting the Scope and Structure of a Ratchet Mechanism

Further, there are emerging questions over what a periodic assessment and revisiting process should cover. Negotiators continue to debate whether the scope should be limited to emissions reductions and climate change mitigation targets and activities, or if it should also include reviews and revisions of adaptation and finance commitments. The view supporting an expanded focus beyond just mitigation gained some traction during the Bonn discussions in June, but no resolution was reached by the end of the session.

Beyond the questions of scope, there are various options for what the components of a ratchet mechanism would be. Possible components include:

  • An ex-ante review in which an assessment of a country’s commitment is made after it is proposed, but prior to final submission. It would look at that country’s level of effort on climate change relative to the total global effort.
  • A judgment on the aggregate adequacy of all commitments.
  • Some machinery for compelling or facilitating a commitment requiring greater effort if the contribution tabled is inadequate. This machinery could involve a set of incentives, like supplemental financial or technical assistance.

Each part of this three-fold structure could take multiple forms and has not been well defined to date.

Reflecting the Ratchet in the Paris Package: Where in the Negotiating Text will a Ratchet be Embedded

It is not yet guaranteed that clear commitment periods or a mandate for a set of rules to ramp up the ambition of commitments over time will be kept in the final agreement text adopted in Paris. Several parties have voiced a preference for relocating provisions on cycles and timeframes to a separate COP decision document that will accompany the formal legal agreement, as these topics may require periodic updates and will likely lack the durability of content in the formal agreement text.

If there are provisions anchored into either the agreement or the decision text, which seems to be a likely outcome, it is still unclear if parties will incorporate a consolidated rachet mechanism or design separate processes for increasing ambition. A consolidated ratchet mechanism would be defined in one section of the agreement or accompanying COP decisions, while the separate processes for increasing ambition over time could be sprinkled across the text—for example, the increase of adaptation commitments could be approached separately from mitigation or finance commitments.

Moving Towards a Consensus around 5-Year Cycles

While clarity is still lacking on the potential scope and structure of a ratchet mechanism would take, some promising reports emerged from a set of ministerial meetings held in late July on the timeframe for review cycles. At the conclusion of closed meetings chaired by the the French Presidency of COP21, France’s lead negotiator on climate change stated that consensus was building at a high political level to establish five-year commitment and assessment cycles as part of the Paris agreement.

In the August-September Bonn session the high-level convergence on this issue forged in informal sessions over the summer did seem to trickle down to negotiations over the Paris text itself and move discussions over the text towards a clearer set of options on structure and placement.

In the first week of October, the presiding co-chairs of the climate negotiations will release another streamlined draft agreement text that will underpin the discussions going into the third round of formal negotiating sessions in Bonn. It remains to be seen if this next iteration of the document will clarify how and where ratchets and commitment cycles will be embedded in the text.

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