What the Lima Call for Climate Action means for Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs)

By Niklas Höhne, Hanna Fekete, Thomas Day

COP20 climate negotations
By providing an agreed set of options for the elements to be included in the agreement and underlying principles, the outcomes of COP20 in Lima – the Lima Call for Climate Action – sets the framework for negotiations throughout 2015.

As the curtain finally comes down on yet another very long round of COP negotiations, NewClimate Institute takes a look at what the Lima Call for Climate Action means for the development of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) over the coming months.

Under the Ad-Hoc Durban Platform, countries are currently negotiating a new global climate agreement, the first international climate change agreement expected to explicitly commit all countries to specific climate change mitigation plans (for a blue print of such an agreement see the output of the ACT2015 project).

Countries have started to prepare their nationally determined contributions, most prominently the EU, USA and China. A major question is whether these contributions will be sufficient in aggregate to stay within the internationally agreed 2°C limit for global temperature increase. In the Climate Action Tracker, we calculated that the announcements of the EU, USA and China for 2025 and 2030, if fully implemented, would reduce global temperature increase by 0.2 to 0.4°C by 2100. In this case, the global temperature increase would still be around 3°C above pre-industrial levels, well above the internationally agreed limit of 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

By providing an agreed set of options for the elements to be included in the agreement and underlying principles, the outcomes of COP20 in Lima – the Lima Call for Climate Action – sets the framework for negotiations throughout 2015.

In an attempt to accommodate all Parties’ priorities and to create a way forward for the development of a broadly supported international agreement in Paris in 2015, the final COP20 text is a relatively vaguely constructed compromise. The language in the Lima Call for Climate Action leaves much room for countries to set their own priorities when developing and communicating their INDCs. Nevertheless, some aspects have been defined. Here is what the text tells us about different aspects to be considered when developing INDCs:

Level of ambition and review of INDCs

The Lima text reiterates the global objective of holding global temperature increase limits below 1.5° C or 2° C compared to pre-industrial levels, and recognises that there is still a significant emissions gap towards this goal.

The Lima text specifies that “each Party’s intended nationally determined contribution […] will represent a progression beyond the current undertaking of that Party” (paragraph 10, Lima Call for Climate Action), meaning that the ambition of the INDCs should go beyond current targets and/or reference development. The text does not provide guidance on the level of ambition per country.

With the Lima outcomes, the UNFCCC Secretariat is required by 01 November 2015 to publish a synthesis that aggregates the anticipated effect of INDCs submitted by 01 October 2015, with respect to the latest available science pertaining to the achievement of the internationally agreed goal to limit global temperature rise to maximum 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The intention is that the timing of this report allows sufficient time for pledges to be revised, where necessary, ahead of the COP21 negotiations which will begin on 30 November 2015. It remains to be seen if one month is really sufficient.

An element which could not be agreed upon by all Parties in Lima was the proposed formal peer review process under which Parties would be invited to review each other’s pledges, and subsequently to revise their own. However, the text does provide the conditions for such a process to take place informally outside the UNFCCC. It states that all INDC submissions will be published in their entirety on the UNFCCC website. Research institutions, civil society and other UN bodies, such as UNEP, will use this information to undertake an informal review. Civil society is to take part in this informal review process, and to encourage governments to maximise the level of ambition on the table at the beginning of the COP21 negotiations in Paris. (For a discussion on options for a formal ambition mechanism see the Act2015 paper).

Components and information to be included in the INDC

One of the crunch points at Lima was the question of which components should be contained in the INDCs. In principle, countries may submit the information in any format they wish, since it is a nationally determined contribution. However, the intention in Lima was to clarify expectations and make a few components mandatory.

In addition to the mitigation of climate change, the final text includes an invitation to Parties to consider the topic of adaptation in their INDCs. It does not, however, mention finance as an element to be included. This means that countries are free, but are not explicitly asked, to explain how much support they would need to implement their mitigation or adaptation actions or to enhance the level of ambition with additional support. Countries are not explicitly expected to put forward “finance commitments” as part of their INDCs, however, the document does request developed countries to provide finance for ambitious mitigation actions in developing countries and for the preparation of INDCs in countries which need support to do so.

To be able to understand the submitted INDCs and to aggregate the global effect, the Lima Call for Climate Action asks for the following information to be submitted alongside INDCs, where appropriate (paragraph 14, Lima Call for Climate Action):

  • Quantifiable information on the reference point (e.g. base year, or reference level if the form of the INDC is a reduction below reference)
  • Time frames for implementation (e.g. the target year(s) or period)
  • Scope and coverage of plans (inclusion of sectors and gases)
  • Assumptions and methodology for estimating and accounting for GHGs
  • Self-assessment of how the INDC is fair and ambitious, given the countries’ national circumstances.
  • Explanation of how the INDC contributes to the objective of the Convention to hold global warming below 2°C or 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
  • Information on the “planning processes” (e.g. how they arrived at the INDC or how they plan to implement it).

Parties are also invited to submit details of their national adaptation plans along with their INDCs, although this is not given high priority within the text.

Differentiation between countries

The Lima Call for Climate Action reiterates that the new agreement should reflect the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances”. It further specifies that the submission of action based commitments rather than hard outcome based targets is a valid option for INDCs, especially for least developed countries and small island developing states (paragraph 11, Lima Call for Climate Action).

Otherwise, the text does not suggest any differentiation between countries in the INDCs. However, it is clear that through the bottom-up nature of the process and the nationally determined manner in which countries develop the INDCs, the outcomes will be diverse and reflect national circumstances.

The way ahead

The approach of nationally determined contributions – which feature very little guidance on form and ambition but cover all countries – is a departure from the Kyoto Protocol where only a number of (developed) countries took on legally binding commitments to reduce emissions. To what extent the initial bottom-up contributions will be sufficient to hold global warming below the agreed limits, depends on each country’s submission, their review and possible strengthening over time. It is still unclear which mechanisms the Paris agreement will put in place to guarantee that the ambition level is increased over time, if necessary. This mean that the initial contribution should be as ambitious as possible, to not run the risk of locking in insufficient action. A strong target also provides stakeholders in the country with a clear vision for actions in the short and long term future.

A thorough analysis on a country level can support the process of developing INDCs, taking into account for example mitigation potentials and costs (see INDC guide), as well as opportunities where economic development and climate change action go hand in hand (see for example the New Climate Economy report). Building on existing activities and strategies in the countries, including NAMAs and LEDS in developing countries, will play an essential role given the short time frame until the initial submissions of INDCs. In addition, a country could set aspirational, ambitious targets, providing a societal vision for planning actions in the country. Such targets would drive the development of additional ambitious actions in the country and potentially trigger more ambitious commitments by other countries.

The long negotiations in Lima have shown that it may be difficult to agree on detailed specifications for contributions, review processes and potential mechanisms to increase ambition in the final 2015 agreement: one hopes that a process of regular contributions, for example, in five-year cycles, is launched in Paris with increasing levels of sophistication in each round. Whether this process can raise ambition for mitigation action quickly enough to stay below the agreed temperature limits will be the main challenge.