SLoCaT Preliminary Analysis of COP21: Paris Agreement Creates Great Opportunities and Responsibilities for the Transport Sector

The SLoCaT Partnership observed the negotiations in COP21 and published daily reports to report on the negotiations from a Transport perspective. We have now completed our initial assessment of the Paris Agreement and the associated COP21 decision. A more complete and definite report will be issued early 2016. Click here to see the full report.

At the conclusion of COP21 and on the heels of the Paris Agreement, the SLoCaT Partnership would like to offer some closing thoughts to assess the events of the past two weeks and how we view the path ahead toward COP22 Marrakech for a number of key topics.

SLoCaT is highly optimistic on the topic of post-2020 ambition, based on the overall spirit of the Agreement and the overall structure of mechanisms being put in place to ensure that ambition has the potential to be scaled upward as we near a new 2020 starting line. SLoCaT notes however that a transformational change in transport is not likely to happen purely on a basis of climate change goals, and is more likely to be driven by sustainable development concerns (e.g. as a co-benefit of reducing urban air pollution as a primary policy thrust). For this reason, the transport sector could benefit from a stronger linkage between the post-2015 development agenda and the climate change agenda to improve the chances of translating mitigation and adaptation ambition into implementation.

In contrast, SLoCaT is significantly less enthusiastic about the treatment of pre-2020 action within the scope of the Paris Agreement. While the outcome document devotes four full pages to the topic of pre-2020 action, it offers additional guidance beyond reiterating the call for Parties “to make and implement a mitigation pledge under the Cancun Agreements” and resolving to strengthen the existing technical examination process in the 2016-2020 period to accelerate the development and dissemination of technologies with high mitigation potential. It is most essential that the urged national mitigation commitments so indeed materialize, and that they are matched with sufficient financing and technology transfer resources in the pre-2020 period to provide relief from climate impacts for the most vulnerable Parties both pre- and post-2020. As noted by the South African delegation following the announcement of the Agreement “The closing of the pre-2020 ambition gap is essential, and the work of the COP in this regard must remain our focus.”

Furthermore, the COP21 agreement does not foresee substantive review and strengthening of INDC ambition levels for the 2020-2025 period, despite the fact that there was broad consensus that ambition levels currently captured in INDCs are on a projected course for a 2.7 degree Celsius increase and thus are likely to fall well short of a 2DS let alone a 1.5 DS. The final Agreement includes no language for further tightening ambition during this period (with the exception of a minor clause for updating those INDCs with a 2030 rather than a 2025 timeframe), and useful language on this topic was removed in the final draft (vis-à-vis December 10 draft); thus, there is a clear danger that 2020-2025 could become “lost period” for increasing mitigation ambition. In summary, if we have weak efforts pre-2020 and inadequate 2020-2025 INDCs, the transport sector is likely to be placed on a trajectory that makes it increasingly unlikely to achieve a 1.5DS by 2030 or 2050.

SLoCaT welcomes efforts in the Agreement to increase transparency and MRV for all Parties in translating mitigation commitments into action, acknowledging that much of the work in this area will be done two to three years from now, so it is too early to declare victory. A key outstanding question is whether efforts in this area would be sufficiently sector specific, as there has been little tendency up to now from UNFCCC to move into the level of sector-specific discussions, which are necessary from a transport sector perspective. Economy-wide targets have limited utility, and only a dozen countries have set a transport sector-specific target in their INDCs; thus, it must be acknowledged in forthcoming action on transparency and MRV that economy-wide reductions will ultimately be realized through sector-specific policies and instruments.

One critical area in which the draft Agreement is not providing guidance is on emissions from international aviation and shipping. After being included in earlier drafts of the Agreement (following ongoing discussion of this topic since the ADP 2-8 session in February 2015), all references to these rapidly growing sources of emissions have been removed from the ongoing dialogue. With projected emissions increases of 250-300% in these sectors by 2050, many actors rightly feel that this omission is a cause for serious concern; it should also be noted that successes in climate change mitigation in the land transport sector might be compromised if they are not mirrored by equally ambitious and transformative actions on international aviation and shipping.

On the topic of adaptation, SLoCaT sees cause for optimism in the movement toward growing parity with mitigation with regard to focuses on policy, funding, and technology. However, despite positive steps taken in the direction of adaptation, it should be noted that adaptation goals in the Agreement are mostly qualitative. Thus, SLoCaT will reserve judgment while awaiting efforts to be put in place over the next two to three years which should include taking additional steps to allow adaptation to catch up to mitigation knowledge base that has been developed over many years to set specific quantitative targets to accelerate action on adaptation in the transport sector. 

Finally, regarding means of implementation, SLoCaT notes that the Paris Agreement adds little to discussion in this area, as the means to implement appear less ambitious than the targets to be implemented. In the area of technology, it will be necessary to complement a country-based approach to assessing technical needs with an expanded dialog with industry to match these needs with technical solutions, a process which will be particularly important in the case of the transport sector. Regarding finance, a narrowing down to focusing on climate finance in the final version of the COP21 decision is not helpful for the transport sector, and it will be necessary to bring other proposed funding elements (including public and private sector sources) back into the discussion.

A renewed focus on capacity building in the Agreement is however a welcome development and will be key to the success of the forthcoming implementation of country commitments, and will thus be an essential element in moving sustainable transport from project-based paradigms to a more programmatic approach.

SLoCaT believes that the Paris Agreement and COP21 decision can change the narrative on non-Party engagement in the UNFCCC processes. We believe that in addition to the continued engagement of transport sector through “traditional” non-Party roles (e.g. through the Lima-Paris Action Agenda, and the mobilizing non-Party actors to take action), the Paris Agreement provides non-Party stakeholders with a mandate and a more distinct role in the follow-up to the Paris Agreement, which will allow the transport sector to engage more actively with UNFCCC Secretariat to advance climate actions.

Specific opportunities for the SLoCaT Partnership and the sustainable transport community under the Paris Agreement (in areas including those described above) are spelled out in more detail in Annex 1, based on specific paragraphs of the Agreement, which include the following topics: 

(a) INDCs

(b) Mitigation potential of transport (including a transport 1.5DS)

(c) Adaptation potential of transport

(d) Finance 

(e) Technology

(f) Capacity building 

(g) Global stocktake

(h) Facilitating implementation and compliance

(i) Pre-2020 actions

(j) Non-Party stakeholders

Thus, in this initial look back, SLoCaT concludes that COP21 offers not only opportunities but also responsibilities for the transport sector, which must be carried forth by all segments of the sustainable transport community, through the concerted efforts of transport experts and advocates, financing institutions, national ministries, and international bodies. With the ink barely dry on the Paris Agreement, we are anticipating the hard work ahead, which will be necessary to ensure that the collective spirit of last week’s proceedings are quickly translated into concrete steps toward the ambitious targets – most importantly the aspiration to reach a 1.5 degree scenario. While hopes are high, the burden of expectation is higher, as noted in the COP21 closing session by the representative of South Africa, which launched the process for creating the Paris Agreement four years ago in Durban, who quoted Nelson Mandela in her remarks on “turning the finish line that is Paris into a new starting line for the ongoing process that leads to Marrakech and beyond”.

“I have walked that long road to freedom… I have not faltered, [though] I have made many missteps along the way. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me…but I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities and I dare not linger, because my long walk is not ended.”