Developing Article 6

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement contains a number of bolt holes for the development of market and non-market mechanisms to drive future mitigation.

Within these, paragraph 6.2 pertains to any linkage that might exist between Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), such as could occur between cap and trade systems residing in different countries. For example, Canada and the United States have such a linkage between the California and Quebec systems, with other states and provinces likely to join. Presumably when Canada presents the result of its NDC efforts to the UNFCCC at various stock takes, the transfer that has occurred between these two systems will need to be accounted for, with this paragraph leading to a clear set of modalities for the necessary accounting of the transfer. The longer term hope is that this paragraph provides additional impetus to such activities, catalysing both the use of such trading systems and the creation of links between them. This is an important step towards the formation of a globally traded carbon market.

Paragraph 6.4 is also a formative proposition, potentially containing within it the means to drive new investment and markets. It states;

A mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development is hereby established under the authority and guidance of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement for use by Parties on a voluntary basis. It shall be supervised by a body designated by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement, and shall aim:

  1. To promote the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions while fostering sustainable development;
  2. To incentivize and facilitate participation in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions by public and private entities authorized by a Party;
  3. To contribute to the reduction of emission levels in the host Party, which will benefit from mitigation activities resulting in emission reductions that can also be used by another Party to fulfil its nationally determined contribution; and
  4. To deliver an overall mitigation in global emissions.

Almost from the moment the gavel came down in Paris, commentators have been referring to this as the Sustainable Development Mechanism. This has become so embedded that when I returned to this part of the Agreement to write this post I was surprised that it isn’t actually called that. Rather, the mechanism is an EMM (Emissions Mitigation Mechanism) which supports sustainable development, not a sustainable development mechanism that happens to result in emissions reduction.

It is very early days, although Paragraph 6.7 gives the negotiators just this year to sort out the modalities and procedures of the mechanism. At a conference in London this month, a first discussion around Article 6 and particularly the mechanism within it took place. Although the meeting was more of a post-Paris stocktake, it offered an opportunity to get some thoughts and ideas onto the table.

One of the first of these was a presumption that the mechanism is simply the Clean Development Mechanism of the Paris Agreement, i.e. CDM 2.0. While it may eventually offer such a service, to limit it to this and no more may turn out to be very short sighted. In the first instance, the text above does not mention project activity or identify developing countries as the beneficiaries of the activities undertaken. This is in contrast to Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol which clearly identified such a role for the CDM.

Rather, paragraph 6.4 is defined more broadly as a mechanism to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gases while fostering sustainable development. This means that it could have very wide scope and operate on many fronts or alternatively be specified quite narrowly but operate universally as a carbon trading unit. Other definitions or uses may also be considered.

Within a broad scope the mechanism could operate down to a single project, as was the case under the CDM, or become a crediting unit within a baseline system that operates across an entire NDC or within a sector covered by an NDC. Such a unit might be traded between systems, acting as the agent to link baseline-and-credit designs or even cap-and-trade designs. It could become a carbon reduction bought through a financing mechanism such as the Green Climate Fund, establishing that fund as a buyer of reductions as a means of driving mitigation activity. Other possibilities include linking it to technology demonstration or climate finance requirements.

The ambition embedded within the Paris Agreement is going to require change on a very large scale and at a very rapid pace; certainly much faster than could be envisaged through a project by project approach, as was the case with the CDM. While the CDM was very successful in what it did, the scale was hardly measurable against the size of the global energy system. This also argues against an early narrow use of Paragraph 6.4.

At this stage the possibilities are wide open and we need to keep them that way. In the months leading up to the Bonn intercessional meeting in late May, the opportunity exists to explore these options and think through the possible applications of a broadly defined mitigation mechanism. A rush to create CDM 2.0 would be a mistake, even if there is early recognition that the mechanism will need to fulfil this task as part of its overall definition.