This blog was originally posted on the Wilson Center's New Security Beat after the event What Next? Climate Mitigation After Paris, co-hosted by the U.S. Agency for International Development's Office of Global Climate Change and the Wilson Center's Environment Change and Security Program.
The Paris Climate Agreement sets forth a bold goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, keep global temperature rise below 2.0 degrees Celsius, and employ best efforts toward no more than 1.5 degrees of warming. It also sets forth a new set of rules to achieve these goals. [Video Below]
Unlike prior climate agreements like the Kyoto Protocol, all 195 countries that are signatories – industrialized and developing alike – are obliged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries set their own emission reduction targets and outline their strategies to achieve those targets in documents known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Early success stories from these NDCs – now submitted by a majority of countries – are essential, according to USAID Deputy Assistant Administrator Carrie Thompson, who leads the agency’s climate change work. “We feel it’s critically important to come out of the blocks very strong to demonstrate success and show countries around the world that it is possible to make progress against commitments countries have made in their NDCs,” she said at the Wilson Center on June 14.
Furthermore, it is hoped that reaching early targets will “begin a virtuous cycle to build ambition,” Thompson said. While the NDCs submitted to date aren’t enough to achieve the 1.5- or 2.0-degree temperature goals, the Paris Agreement incorporates processes to ratchet up mitigation action over time. To kick off such a cycle and reach the ultimate temperature and emission goals requires demonstrations that targets can be reached and exceeded.
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Partnerships: A Critical Aspect of Implementation
The form of NDCs varies greatly in terms of specificity of goals and actions, sectors of the economy targeted, and the enabling policy environment – all of which set the context for implementation and the roles of government, financial institutions, the private sector, and NGOs.
Governments can create enabling conditions for NDC implementation through supportive policy frameworks, infrastructure, and catalytic finance, said Grzegorz Peszko, lead economist with the World Bank’s climate change group. Donors can play a key role in providing technical and analytical support for those enabling conditions, he said, citing the example of Pakistan, where the World Bank and USAID are working together with the government to facilitate discussion of incentives that influence the behavior of firms.
“There are many win-win situations that come from acting on climate change independently from the environment”
USAID’s long-standing work with 26 countries to develop Low Emission Development Strategies is also providing vital foundational support, said Thompson. “We’re continuing to work with countries to measure baseline emissions so that they can accurately and transparently report on progress toward their NDC commitments,” she said, “as well as helping with specific actions laid out in their NDCs, such as efforts to scale-up renewable energy, protect forest landscapes, and promote climate-smart agriculture.”
Mexico’s current climate change actions illustrate the many kinds of partnerships that can support NDC implementation. USAID partnered with Mexico to provide technical support for its first private clean energy auction, for example. Beatriz Bugeda, director general for climate change policy in Mexico’s Environment and Natural Resources Secretariat, cited key factors supporting successful climate action, including the passage of a national climate change law by the legislature; an inter-ministerial commission dedicated to coordination on climate; and trilateral cooperation of ministries, the private sector, and donors.
“There are many win-win situations that come from acting on climate change independently from the environment...”
“There are many win-win situations that come from acting on climate change independently from the environment,” said Bugeda. The private sector in Mexico is beginning to view actions to reduce emissions as a business opportunity, she said, citing the example of improving energy efficiency to cut energy costs and greenhouse gases – “it makes sense economically and socially.”
Enabling Quick Wins
As countries begin to implement their NDCs, governments are looking for quick wins. Advances in energy technology – such as small-scale and modular devices for distributed energy generation – offer opportunities, said Bill Tyndall, chief executive officer of the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP), a non-profit think tank that works to strengthen climate and air quality policies worldwide.
“It’s possible to be really ambitious sector by sector, project by project,” Tyndall said. He noted CCAP’s work supporting alternative transportation plans for small towns around Quito that would take cars and trucks off the road, reduce emissions, and eventually lead to electrification, as well as distributed energy projects in Pakistan, the Philippines, and Peru. NGOs like CCAP can help leverage lessons learned through convening dialogues, fostering partnerships, and helping to bring developing countries to the table, he said.
Energy efficiency is touted by many as “low-hanging fruit,” but Peszko warns that improving efficiency can be harder than it looks. “Sometimes it is hard to find the trees,” he noted, indicating that each case is context and country specific. “There can be hidden costs we don’t see in models, and sometimes very painful and difficult reforms are required.”
Enabling conditions are fostered by “encouraging dialogue between local governments and the private sector to improve the incentive structure, reduce risks, and provide a variety of financial instruments,” Peszko said. In Morocco, for example, abundant renewable energy resources, functional electrical infrastructure, and a supportive policy environment have all come together to drive down wind and solar prices. As a result, coal is no longer competitive.
Getting the financing right is critical, but tricky, as climate financing is a new frontier with little precedent. “Right now we’re in a world with private capital, traditional financing, and the whole new world of emerging climate finance like the Green Climate Fund,” Tyndall said. “There is a need and opportunity to figure out how to leverage and optimize this complicated landscape to drive the mitigation we want to see.” This is a challenge for which the NGO community, in particular, is well-positioned to provide thought leadership and outline innovative approaches, he said.
All stakeholders have a role to play in building the momentum needed to achieve the Paris Agreement’s ambitious temperature goal, Thompson said, starting with promoting early success in NDC implementation. “It is incumbent on all of us to disseminate lessons learned on how to support countries in doing this important work.”
Kathleen Mogelgaard is a writer and analyst on population and the environment, and a consultant for ECSP.