Stocktaking and Ratcheting After Paris

by Noah M Sachs

December 10, 2015

In the latest draft treaty text from Thursday evening in Paris two contentious issues seem to be resolved: how often the agreement will be reviewed after it is adopted (“stocktaking”) and whether the reviews should involve ever-more-stringent commitments by the parties (“ratcheting”).

The background here is that the greenhouse gas reduction commitments made so far by 185 countries are voluntary, and they have varying levels of ambition.    Most countries committed to fulfill their promised reductions by 2030, but some countries, including the United States, used a 2025 target year (the U.S. committed to a 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels).   There is no enforcement mechanism for these commitments – no sheriff to monitor compliance and no court to punish the laggards.

The second-best option, then, is periodic reviews – stocktaking -- to see how each nation is progressing toward its voluntary pledge.  Although this idea seems non-controversial, many developing countries in Paris opposed 5-year reviews between now and 2030 because they feared the reviews would be used to shame them or force them to increase their reduction commitments.  India, for example, pushed for a 10-year review process to give countries the time to do what they said they would do.  Developed countries, led by the United States, pushed for reviews early and often: at least every five years beginning in 2018 or 2020.  

The current text (Article 10) now confirms that the first global “stocktake” will be in 2023 and will be every five years thereafter.   The draft agreement never mentions the word “ratcheting,” but simply states (Article 3) that each party “shall,” communicate a greenhouse gas reduction pledge every five years.  Further, the pledge “should” represent “a progression beyond the Party’s previous efforts and reflect its highest possible ambition.”  An earlier draft of the treaty used the word “shall” rather than “should” in this sentence; so disappointingly, it is not obligatory that countries ratchet up their own pledges over time.

With this new language, we can see an outline of the post-Paris process.   It is clear to everyone that the Paris agreement will not achieve the goal of limiting warming to “well below” 2 degrees (the new target objective in the latest draft).   At best, it will buy the world ten more years to stay on a path that makes less than two degrees of warming theoretically achievable.   So post-Paris, regular reviews and increases in ambition are essential.   Conferences of the Parties will continue to meet every year, of course, and NGOs will keep constant track of the gap between national emissions and the “well below” 2 degree goal.  

The five-year reviews, therefore, should be something different, more than just finger-wagging at laggard nations.  They should assess mitigation, adaptation, and financing, and integrate the latest science.  They should be an international showcase for countries to announce new, aggressive climate pledges to take us into the 2040s.   With the effects of climate change getting increasingly dangerous, the time for a new round of more stringent commitments is not far away.

Tagged as: Paris international
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Professor Noah Sachs is Professor of Law and Director, Robert R. Merhige, Jr. Center for Environmental Studies at the University of Richmond School of Law.

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