The Paris Agreement, in Article 4.10, calls for the consideration of common timeframes for Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). This is not simply a procedural issue – it is key to unlocking ambition and promoting fairness. However, in the lead-up to the Katowice Conference, there were significant disagreements on: whether the common timeframes (CTFs) should be five years, ten years, five or ten years (based on the choice of the Party), or five years plus an indicative NDC for a second five-year period (“5+5”); whether timeframes should be nationally driven; and whether flexibility would be granted for developing countries. While, as reported in COP 24 Key Outcomes, some progress was made in whittling down the CTF text in Katowice, Parties failed to agree on a specific solution. Instead, they requested the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) to continue the consideration of this matter in June 2019.
On 11 April 2019, OCP/ecbi and Climate Action Network South Asia co-hosted a Seminar on “Common Time Frames: Creating Space for Ambition in the Paris Agreement Rulebook” in the India International Centre, New Delhi. The Seminar was attended by representatives from the government, think tanks, academia and civil society.
Professor Benito Müller, Director OCP/ecbi, kicked off the proceedings with a presentation of his paper on the Seminar topic. The presentation began with an analysis of what “time frames” are meant to be “common”, or in other words, synchronised between Parties of the Paris Agreement. Müller mentioned that in the negotiations the concept of “time frame” has been interpreted both as “target period” and “period of implementation” of NDCs (see Common Time Frames’: What & Why?). Instead, he argued, it is more fruitful to think of time frames as “time horizons” given by the common end points of these periods. He then introduced the idea of a Dynamic Contribution Cycle (DCC), first developed during the 2014 ecbi Oxford Seminar. The DCC proposes a rolling cycle of two consecutive 5-year NDCs (the “5+5” option), together with a synchronised 5-yearly review (“updating”) of NDC ambitions, jointly allowing space for an assessment of equity and enhancement of overall ambition.
A lively discussion followed the presentation, where the following elements were highlighted:
- 5- and 10-year time horizons are mutually complementary, as each has desirable features that the other is lacking. 5-year time horizons, for example, are more predictable and thus less risky to commit to, while 10-year horizons may be needed to implement certain longer-term policies. The debate should therefore focus not on a binary choice between 5 or 10 years, but whether it is possible to come up with a solution that combines the advantages of both. The 5+5 option is that solution. Indeed, having both a 5- and a 10-year time horizon is one, if not only, internally consistent interpretation of having “common time frames of 5 and 10 years” which some have called for in the negotiations.
- The 5+5 option provides space for equity. Communicating the +5 NDC with a 10-year time horizon provides 5 years for all actors to assess informally the collective adequacy and equity of the +5 NDCs. Adding a synchronised 5-year updating cycle, as envisaged in the DCC, allows for the outcomes of these informal assessments to be translated into enhanced ambition.
- Last, but by no means least, the Seminar has again shown that the idea behind the DCC has a proven track record in domestic contexts. A Seminar participant noted that India, for instance, has a well-established system for short-, medium-, and long-term planning for electricity generation and transmission. Under the Electricity Power Survey (EPS), which is conducted every five years, the electricity demand of all states and union territories, regions, and the country as a whole is estimated for time horizons of 5, 10, 15, and 20 years. These estimates then form the basis for planning generation and transmission capacities. The Indian power sector therefore relies on a dynamic 5+5+5+5 planning cycle (the latest Electric Power Survey (EPS) report considers the electricity demand for FY 2016-2017 to FY 2036-2037). The electricity sector is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in India, and its planning cycles are critical to inform domestic climate change planning. The EPS reports also forecasts the break-up of different kinds of generation capacities – coal, gas, hydro, renewables etc. – that can be added in a given time horizon based on economic feasibility.
While there was no substantive decision on CTFs at COP 24 in Katowice, a significant procedural decision was taken, to move from merely considering CTFs to adopting that there shall be CTFs from 2031. The task of finding the most effective form of CTFs, which can potentially drive both ambition and equity, therefore remains a key challenge for the climate negotiations, and it would be wise to tackle it head-on rather than kick it down the road. The 25th Conference of Parties this year (2019), in Santiago de Chile, marks the silver jubilee of the UNFCCC conferences, and it would be fitting for it to become the 'ambition COP' by agreeing on (a variant of) the Dynamic Contribution Cycle.