As COP27 gets underway this week, world leaders will be descending on Egypt with a further round of speeches, promises and pledges to keep 1.5°C alive as a goal to strive for. But as each day passes and global emissions continue at around the rate of 40 gigatonne per year (Gt/y), the simple maths behind the carbon budget gets more and more difficult.
In the IPCC 6th Assessment Report WGI summary the climate scientist authors developed Table SPM.2, shown below, which detailed the remaining carbon budget from 1st January 2020 for a given eventual global warming, relative to 1850-1900. In the case of 1.5°C this is 500 Gt. The permitted budget changes depending on the level of warming and the likelihood of the outcome. So a 2°C outcome with a 67% likelihood offers a budget of 1150 Gt, or over twice that for 1.5°C at 50% likelihood.
While a number measured in hundreds of billions of tonnes (or half a trillion in the case of 1.5°C with 50% likelihood) may seem very large, when set against current annual global emissions of over 40 Gt/y, it is around a dozen years. This means we are knocking on the door of 1.5°C right now. In fact, the 1.5°C carbon budget is being consumed by society at such a pace, that just during the time COP 27 is held, another 1 Gt of the 500 Gt will have been used.
Over time, the consumption of the carbon budget is measured in terms of cumulative emissions, or in a chart of annual emissions vs. time in years it is the area under the line. This then gives us a simple way of looking at the carbon budget and establishing what different trajectories might mean in terms of outcome.
The chart above starts at 2020 and goes through to 2070. In each of 2020, 2021 and 2022 the emissions are either known or almost known, so they are represented in grey as budget consumed. The total is about 120 Gt, with 2020 being the lowest due to the sharp COVID related downturn in March, April and May of that year. With the simplified assumption that emissions won’t be negative at some future time (but of course they may be and undoubtedly will need to be), the linear trajectory for 1.5°C now requires a step down in emissions in 2023 to 40 Gt, then a rapid reduction to 20 Gt in 2030 followed by net-zero emissions in 2047. By contrast, a direct linear reduction from current levels to net-zero emissions in 2050 means a 1.6°C outcome.
Three other combinations are also shown:
A plateau in emissions to 2030 then a quick linear descent to net-zero in 2050 results in 1.7°C of warming.
A further rise in emissions to 2030, then a fall to net-zero in 2060 gives 1.9°C of warming.
If a further rise is followed by net-zero emissions in 2070, then we might expect 2°C of warming.
Given the acceleration of the energy transition in recent years and the new pressures now being placed on fossil fuel use through both price and supply concerns, there are reasons to believe that the transition could accelerate further. It will certainly need to. In the last 15 years the share of coal, oil and natural gas in the primary energy mix has dropped by just 2 percentage points, a trend that would require 600 years to get to zero. By contrast, a 1.6°C outcome requires that rate of change to rise by a factor of 20 to nearly 3 percentage points per year. This is the challenge that leaders at COP 27 need to focus on.
The 56th session of the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice took place in Bonn over the past two weeks and one of the features of the session was further progress in operationalising Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, particularly after completion of the rule-book at COP 26 in Glasgow. But like many other aspects of the Paris Agreement and the global effort to significantly reduce emissions, Article 6 is making good progress but not rapid progress, yet it is rapid progress that is needed. My colleague, Malek Al-Chalabi, was in Bonn for SBSTA 56 and together we thought it would be useful to reflect yet again on the critical importance of this somewhat overlooked corner of the Paris Agreement. Article 6 was the last piece of the Agreement to fall into place in December 2015 and the last part to have its rule-book agreed, taking three years longer than every other part of the Agreement (but addmitedly not helped by COVID-19).
The importance of Article 6 stems from the clear message delivered by WGIII of the recent IPCC 6th Assessment Report; that carbon dioxide removals (CDR) are vital if the world is to achieve 1.5°C, the more ambitious goal of the UN Paris Agreement. This includes direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS), afforestation (NBS or nature-based solutions), and bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).
Arguably, there is no net-zero emissions without Article 6. Not all countries will have the same geographic and geological ability to harness or deploy CDR options or reduce emissions at the same rate, and the majority of countries cannot expect to reduce emissions to zero such that CDR is not needed. This is where trade is relevant.
Trade underpins economic activity and offers society the flexibility to provide the wide range of goods and services that we all benefit from. Trade is often the underpinning reason for foreign direct investment. It encourages the business sector to engage in projects and activities outside their traditional base with a view to bringing goods and services into that base. Cooperation between nation states is often pursued through some form of trading arrangement.
Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is a tailored and comprehensive policy that can enable cost reductions for lowering emissions via trade between nations. It allows countries to work together via ‘cooperative approaches’ through its voluntary nature. An International Emissions Trading Association (IETA), University of Maryland, and Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC) study has shown that cost reductions from cooperative implementation under Article 6 can be achieved through improved economic efficiency over independent implementation of countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs). According to the trade models used by the University of Maryland, the potential benefit is up to ~$250 billion per year in 2030.
In addition to the direct commercial benefit, it is the ‘net’ of ‘net-zero emissions’ that Article 6 unlocks. Large scale cross border investment that would otherwise not take place can result from the development and trading of carbon removal units. This is why Article 6 is so important – it helps all sectors and Parties to the Paris Agreement reach net-zero emissions. This can be illustrated with a simple example shown below. The country and the aviation sector both have a target of zero emissions, but neither is able to realise that goal through direct reductions. A regional partner has untapped carbon removal potential, but no need to use it as emissions are already at zero. By cooperating through the trading provisions of Article 6, the end result is that net emissions of 200 units CO2 across the three are brought to net-zero emissions.
While removals such as afforestation are well known, DACCS and BECCS have growing but still limited experience. That is why further international cooperation is needed alongside Article 6. In order to bring technologies like DACCS and BECCS to scale at an economic price and to further afforestation, cross border capacity building, joint research and development opportunities to pilot CDR options, and integrated policies and funding will also be required. This can make CDR more economically viable.
There are encouraging signs of international cooperation taking place, including countries agreeing to pilots and agreements using Article 6. However, these agreements are few and at the moment not used at scale. In order to maximize the use of Article 6, IETA has identified the following elements for governments to consider (see the full IETA paper here):
Announce whether and how the country will authorize Article 6 credits and/or accept towards the achievement of its NDC.
Provide a clear strategy and stable guidelines on which sectors, activities and vintages will be eligible for Article 6 credits.
Articulate how the use of Article 6 will help achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Elaborate what policy framework the host country will adopt and how it will interact with the receiving country.
Establish an effective interaction between compliance instruments and the voluntary carbon market (VCM).
Support the emergence of a widely accessible traded market for carbon credits.
Ensure a suitable digital registry or other infrastructure for GHG accounting and reporting is in place.
Address key risks in the activity cycle and identify mechanisms to reduce them.
Emphasize the areas where capacity building is required and the role of international organizations.
Article 6 remains an innovative and new policy framework which has not been globally tested and used and it is understandable why some countries and regions may look to meet their own NDCs targets domestically instead of internationally. There are many areas to align, including how to formalize reporting mechanisms and ensuring that the deals that are made between countries (either directly or through business-to-business transactions) are set at prices and in frameworks that are transparent and benefit both.
However, if countries are to reach their NDCs independently of one another, it will be more expensive than working together and net-zero emissions will become an elusive goal. Article 6 has the potential to improve economic efficiency while helping reduce emissions across countries and sectors and provide access to opportunities only possible through cooperation. The opportunity exists to use it – and hopefully that can be maximized.
With world leaders and thousands of delegates and observers meeting in Glasgow for COP26, there is much talk of this being the last chance to save 1.5°C. It wouldn’t be the first time a COP has been described as the last chance we have, but in the case of COP26 and 1.5°C, it is a fair assessment of the situation. It all rests on the available carbon budget which I discussed in a recent post.
In the August 2021 6th Assessment Report from IPCC WGI, the carbon budget analysis for 1.5°C was published, as shown in the table below.
Estimates of historical CO2 emissions and remaining carbon budgets (Source: IPCC)
In its recent NZE 2050 scenario, the IEA used the mid range figure of 500 Gt from 1.1.2020 as the carbon budget for the analysis, although we should recognise that for a greater degree of certainty of not exceeding 1.5°C a lower number is more desirable. But we are two years on from the baseline of 1.1.2020 with cumulative carbon dioxide emissions since that time of some 80 Gt, so from 1.1.2022 which is now just a few weeks away, the carbon budget for 1.5°C is closer to 400 Gt. This sits against global annual carbon dioxide emissions of over 40 Gt, comprising 33 Gt from fossil fuel use, 3 Gt from the calcination of limestone for cement manufacture and 6 Gt as a result of land use change practices, which includes ongoing deforestation.
So with at most 400 Gt of remaining budget and it diminishing by 1 Gt every 9 days (so 1.5 Gt while COP26 is on), the challenge facing the conference is huge. 2021 (originally 2020 in the Paris Agreement but delayed due to COVID-19) is the year in which countries are asked through the Paris Agreement to reassess their initial Nationally Determined Contributions and to increase ambition in light of the prevailing science. Indeed, that process is well underway and a quick look at the UNFCCC NDC Registry will show many new submissions, with more appearing each day.
A quick analysis of the NDCs reveals that in the 2020s global society is likely to consume much of the remaining carbon budget for 1.5°C, which implies that the temperature goal is breached soon after the decade is over (although it may be some years after that the IPCC and WMO confirm this). Just ten medium to large emitting countries account for some 200 Gt in the 2020s, based on the emissions pathways they have announced through their existing or revised NDCs and assuming that these are delivered. That list includes China, the USA, India, the EU, Australia, the UK, Canada, Korea, Japan and Russia. These ten make up about two thirds of current global energy system emissions. China is the largest, with emissions currently around 10 Gt per year. Their revised NDC was submitted last week and brings forward their peaking of emissions to ‘before 2030’. I have assumed that their emissions plateau now, then being falling in 2027 and drop to 9 Gt per year by 2030.
Most of the countries outside my ten, albeit not all, either have modest current emissions and are therefore likely to see short term increases as development continues, or at best will plateau at their current levels. This includes Brazil, Indonesia and all of the African (1.3 Gt energy emissions in 2019) and Middle East (2.1 Gt energy emissions in 2019) countries. The 10+ Gt per year for nine years that these countries represent is around 100+ Gt, so that takes the total to 300+ Gt. Add to this international aviation and marine bunkers over a decade and another 15-20 Gt of the budget is consumed. The total by 2030 is therefore becoming perilously close to 400 Gt and will certainly exceed the tighter 67% and 83% numbers in the table above. At best the NDCs might see carbon dioxide emissions at around 30 Gt per year by 2030, with a remaining budget of 60-80 Gt going into the 2030s and beyond.
While there is a very strong focus at COP26 on net-zero emissions in 2050, the real challenge for 1.5°C is within this decade. The next round of NDCs won’t be submitted until 2025 if the Paris schedule is maintained, by which time another 160-200 Gt of carbon dioxide could have been emitted based on a global plateau at current levels. This really will be too late to make changes for 1.5°C, so it has to be in 2021 with COP26 acting as the catalyst for change.
As COP 26 approaches, the UK government (as President of the COP) and the UNFCCC are encouraging as many countries as possible, in accordance with Paragraph 36 of the Paris Agreement Decision Text, to communicate mid-century, long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies. These should ideally include a net-zero emissions goal for the same time period as such ambitious national contributions are required from all countries to meet the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. To date, about 30 such strategies have been posted on the UNFCCC website.
For India, a mid-century goal of net-zero emissions points to a fundamentally different development pathway to one that might have been imagined just a few years ago. While the busyness and intensity of traffic and commerce in Indian cities like Mumbai and Delhi give the impression of a country bound to fossil fuels, the reality is very different. With around 1.4 billion people in total and a large rural population engaged in agricultural activities, per capita CO2 emissions – at 1.8 tonnes per person in 2015 – are around a ninth of those in the USA and around a third of the global average of 4.8 tonnes per person.
However, overall, India is now the planet’s third-largest emitter of CO2, behind China and the USA. Some costs of the country’s dynamic growth are increasingly visible, namely major congestion in urban centres and declining air quality.
The emissions focus should be on where India might go, rather than where it has been. For example, there are about 3 billion tonnes of steel in use within the country, in buildings, cars, appliances, pipelines and industrial plants. But as India aspires to be a developed economy, that number will likely rise to around 15 billion tonnes. Every other country has built its steel infrastructure with coal as the energy source, but if India does the same that could add another 24 billion tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere globally, based on production emissions of about 2 tonnes of CO2 per tonne of iron. A good proportion of this would come from smelters in India, many of which may not have even been built yet. This is 6% of the IPCC 1.5°C carbon budget globally and would create a significant emissions spike, even considering efficiency improvements in smelting and optimised recycling. It will also add to the local environmental stresses that people in India feel each and every day. So a different smelting pathway should be considered and that is just one aspect of India’s future national development.
Similarly, the Indian electricity sector is largely based on coal fired generation, but here there are visible signs of change as solar and wind become the preferred choices for new generation capacity. By 2020, India had all but met its Nationally Determined Contribution goal of 40% cumulative electric power installed capacity from non-fossil fuel-based energy resources by 2030 (solar, wind, nuclear, hydro, biomass). Whether its cars, trucks, housing, factories or commercial buildings, the story is largely the same; what is yet to come far exceeds what is already there.
This points to a strategic emissions focus for India that is very different to countries with substantial legacy infrastructure. Rather than needing to dislodge the status quo, India has the opportunity to embark on a different development pathway based around cleaner energy technologies and efficiency. These future choices will be important, not just at the national level when making important infrastructure decisions, but also in homes. At the household level, ownership of domestic appliances such as washing machines, refrigerators and air conditioners is relatively low, varying between 15% and 30%, depending on the appliance. As the country develops over the coming 30 years, appliance ownership may well head towards the 90% level seen in much of the world. Once in use these appliances will consume energy, so the choice of model and efficiency rating will be important. These appliances could add 300-500 terrawatt-hours a year to electricity demand, nearly a third of that generated in 2019, but lower efficiency choices might double this amount.
But what might such a development pathway look like? Over recent months the Shell scenario team and Shell India have worked with The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) of India to illustrate what the future could hold. In this collaboration the team developed a Net-Zero Emissions (NZE) scenario, the principle focus of the work, to examine whether adequate opportunities exist to fully decarbonise the energy sector; areas where India’s energy sector does not have enough choices for full decarbonisation by 2050 are also highlighted. From a second scenario, Towards Net-Zero (TNZ), barriers to change that might emerge are revealed. Energy efficiency, electrification and a switch towards decarbonised fuels are the three main pillars of India’s energy strategy, with the need for a transformative move towards renewable electricity, hydrogen and bioenergy as key fuels. This analysis indicates that the industrial and heavy transport sectors are likely to face limits in achieving full decarbonisation, primarily due to technological constraints which leave residual emissions in the system. This necessitates the need for carbon removal options to achieve net-zero emissions, including both technical and natural solutions.
An overview of the pathway reveals both radical and very rapid change. For example, in India today, there is a successful programme of solar PV installation under way, but by 2030 as solar starts to dominate the generation mix in the NZE scenario, it will need to be matched by large-scale energy storage to manage intermittency. More than 1,000 gigawatts of solar PV, 700 GW of which with matching storage, needs to be installed through the 2020s, far exceeding the amount of solar PV installed over the last decade. This level of deployment is challenging, even in global terms. In 2019 global solar module production was about 140 GW, but growing at some 20% per year. Even if growth continues at this rate through the 2020s, the demand in India for modules under NZE would still equate to 20% of global supply. Embodied within the pathway is a monumental challenge, but one that is worth aiming to achieve.
The scenario analysis was released last week and can be found here. The analysis incorporates both the pathway forwards and the policy framework required to get there.
Note: Scenarios don’t describe what will happen, or what should happen, rather they explore what could happen. Scenarios are not predictions, strategies or business plans. Please read the full Disclaimer here.
Over the last few months I have posted a number of articles on carbon dioxide removal (CDR), highlighting the need for this set of practices and technologies in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. The discussion on CDR has also been growing in the academic community, as illustrated by a recent article in Nature Climate on equity considerations relating to the allocation of carbon dioxide removal quotas. Like many before it the article recognizes the necessity for CDR, but focuses on how to distribute the burden of implementing it at scale.
In calculating the required distribution of CDR quotas, the authors use a mid-range CDR cumulative allocation quota of 687 GtCO2 over the period 2018-2100 (as used in the IPCC SR1.5 P3 scenario) to 176 of the 197 UNFCCC parties following Responsibility, Capability and Equality principles. Under the Responsibility (or proportionality) principle, which relates historical emissions from a given country with responsibility to provide solutions to global warming, CDR efforts would increase with greater accumulated historical emissions. By contrast, the Capability (or ability-to-pay) principle establishes that countries better able to solve a common problem should contribute more, which implies wealthier countries are assigned a greater share of CDR efforts. Finally, according to the Equality (or environmental justice) principle, every individual should have the same right to be protected from pollution. Hence, equal per capita CDR is here enforced across countries irrespective of current (or past) emission levels and economic capability.
This is all well and good and the analysis is useful, but it falls foul of one major issue; the UNFCCC has almost no successful track record of distributing burden or enforcing compliance. The closest point that was reached in terms of targets and compliance were the requirements for developed countries within the Kyoto Protocol; unfortunately that didn’t end well. So while it is helpful to understand how the burden ought to fall, there is little chance of devising an international system of allocation to implement burden sharing. Rather, the world has settled on the architecture of the Paris Agreement which sees countries taking action according to their own nationally determined contributions (NDC) to the overall goal of limiting warming to well below 2°C. Nevertheless, within that structure there is some hope.
The Nature paper also makes the point that the capacity to implement CDR is not evenly distributed around the world. Geological storage of carbon dioxide is easier in some locations than others and the opportunity to pair bioenergy production with CCS for negative emissions may only reside in certain places. It is also clear that natural carbon storage through reforestation will only be possible at large scale in certain countries due to land availability and climate considerations. Small industrial states like Singapore are a great example of this. The country has set a course towards net-zero emissions in the second half of the century, yet its borders encompass significant hard to abate emissions and there is little or even no local capacity for CDR. What should they do?
So we have a problem of uneven supply and unclear distribution of demand, within the framework of the Paris Agreement. The solution to this problem is not one of allocation, but one of trade, making use of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It does of course depend on countries wanting the Paris Agreement to reach its goals, which requires that there is some sort of progressive implementation of a net-zero emissions goal within respective NDCs. The EU, UK, New Zealand and a handful of others have already set goals of 2050 for net-zero emissons. As noted above, Singapore is also on a pathway to net-zero, with current policy considerations placing that after 2050. By contrast, Bhutan is already carbon negative and Costa Rica plans to cross net-zero in the near term.
In a posting last year I showed how Article 6 and various forms of CDR could be used to reach net-zero emissions globally. The use of a trading option allows those with a clear goal of net-zero emissions to invest across borders to unlock removal potential that would otherwise remain dormant. There is no allocation or distribution of quotas, only the self-imposed requirement to reach net-zero emissions through a nationally determined contribution. We could imagine a gradation of such NDCs stretching from now (e.g. Bhutan) to 2100 (e.g. a heavily industrial emerging economy), but with all countries either investing in or delivering CDR capacity, driven by the market and its distributive capacity towards lowest cost outcomes.
The picture I developed to illustrate Article 6 starts like this, with no CDR in place;
. . . and ends up like this, with significant CDR capacity realised through cross border trade and investment.
While this is a simple illustration, it isn’t a world that depends on quotas and allocation, but it is a world that has a desire and willingness to get to net-zero emissions.
Article 6 was inserted into the Paris Agreement with a view to providing similar compliance flexibility to that offered by the trading mechanisms within the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. CDM, JI, AAU transfers). But given that the Paris Agreement doesn’t have strict targets and emissions management compliance in the way the Kyoto Protocol did, Article 6 was instead rephrased under the term cooperative approaches. The word trading (or trade) doesn’t appear in the Paris Agreement or its associated Decision Text.
The Kyoto Protocol was built from the ground up on an emission allowance basis (i.e. Assigned Amount Units or AAUs for developed countries), such that trade between developed countries (e.g. through Joint Implementation or JI) was strictly accounted for and the necessary adjustments made through the AAU system. But the protocol also included the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which offered the opportunity for developing countries to implement emission reduction projects and sell units into developed countries, which in turn incentivised a shift away from fossil fuels in the project host countries. However, the CDM could not make use of the two sided accounting system that AAU and JI trades offered. This was because developing countries didn’t have targets under the Protocol and therefore didn’t have AAUs matched to emissions. The solution, in a qualitative attempt to avoid double counting, was to establish rules around the additionality of the projects, in other words to attempt to show that the project was a real reduction and wouldn’t have happened anyway. As such, project baselines and analysis of counterfactual energy trends became important areas of study.
Within the Paris Agreement, Article 6.2 offers the means to transfer bilaterally agreed emission units between countries and Article 6.4 offers a mechanism to generate units under UNFCCC supervision from various national approaches, but with an emphasis on projects. In many ways, Article 6.4 mirrors the CDM of the Kyoto Protocol, although under the Paris Agreement the 6.4 mechanism can be hosted in any country for potential transfer of emission reduction units to any other country.
Whereas the Kyoto Protocol had strict accounting provisions, albeit with the caveat of the CDM transfers as described above, the Paris Agreement has no such architecture. Nevertheless, the requirement to avoid double counting (Article 6.2 and 6.5) has led to proposals for the Paris ‘rule book’ which will require a detailed emissions accounting approach. The proposed accounting text that emerged from COP25 in Madrid is shown in part below;
Under the 6.2 rule book:
8. Each participating Party shall apply corresponding adjustments . . . . .
. . . .
Where the participating Party has a multi-year NDC:
i. Calculating a multi-year emissions trajectory, trajectories or budget for its NDC implementation period that is consistent with the NDC, and annually applying corresponding adjustments for the total amount of ITMOs first transferred and used each year in the NDC implementation period and cumulatively at the end of the NDC implementation period;
9. Each participating Party with an NDC measured in tCO2 eq shall apply corresponding adjustments pursuant to paragraph 8 above, resulting in an emissions balance, reported pursuant to paragraph 23 for each year, by applying corresponding adjustments in the following manner to the emissions and removals from the sectors and GHG covered by its NDC:
a) Adding the quantity of ITMOs authorized and first transferred, pursuant to paragraph 8 above;
b) Subtracting the quantity of ITMOs used pursuant to paragraph 8 above.
Under the 6.4 rule book
IX. Avoiding the use of emission reductions by more than one Party
70. A host Party shall apply a corresponding adjustment for all A6.4ERs first transferred consistent with decision X/CMA.2 (Guidance on cooperative approaches referred to in Article 6, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement) . . . . .
In a Kyoto like world this could be easily implemented. NDCs would first be converted to emissions and AAUs assigned, which would give every country a clear carbon budget. As units were transferred between countries, then the necessary corresponding adjustments could be made via the AAUs. The challenge for the Paris Agreement and Article 6 is to do this in a world that doesn’t have such approaches built into the system but nevertheless needs them to fulfill the accounting requirements.
All the above brings me back to the current state of play on Article 6. Although some excellent text emerged from Madrid, it has yet to be agreed by all the Parties. In the interim, a number of organisations and some governments are pushing ahead with programs to operationalise Article 6 through demonstration. Most of these programs are focused on developing transfers through the 6.2 architecture, creating units under bilateral crediting systems and progressing with the physical transaction of the units between two parties, in some instances using technologies such as blockchain to track the transaction and ensure it is secure. The practitioners within these programs are looking at project baselines, calculating emission reductions, assessing additionality and building registries. But is this really the best use of their resources?
There is a solid twenty year history of project development and emission reduction unit issuance, starting in about 2000 with the likes of the World Bank and their Prototype Carbon Fund. This then led to the early days of the CDM and numerous other regulatory and voluntary market offset schemes. Collectively, we know how to do this and there is a high level of expertise in many institutions, companies and governments. We don’t need to learn this again. But not one of these offset schemes has ever dealt with the complexity of the problem posed by the Article 6 accounting requirements.
What we need are a number of good demonstrations of how corresponding adjustments can be implemented in practice and how they might work when dealing with the wide variety of Nationally determined Contributions (NDC) that currently exist. A prerequisite will be clear demonstrations of how robust emissions accounting can be applied to sometimes vague or non-economy-wide NDCs and to NDCs that have targets other than absolute emissions. Once there is trust around NDC accounting the application of corresponding adjustments is more straightforward and credible for everyone (including both the host country and recipient).
A demonstration program that seeks to establish best practice for corresponding adjustments will require strong cooperation between governments who are tasked with managing NDCs and national greenhouse gas emission inventories, the private sector who will be the likely investors and developers of projects and civil society who have a strong vested interest in environmental integrity and Article 6 itself. This is where the time needs to be invested to operationalise Article 6.
I spent a week at COP25 in Madrid, with great hope that the negotiators would land the Article 6 text and complete the so-called Paris ‘rule book’. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be the case and the longest COP to date was closed with little to show for the immense amount of effort that was put into it, from the Chilean Presidency, the Spanish hosts and the thousands of attendees. But the COP didn’t end with nothing, in that we do have near completed text for Article 6, albeit entirely bracketed, reflecting the lack of final agreement. Brackets are normally used to surround individual words or short passages of text that remain contentious, but in this case they surrounded the Article 6 guidance in its entirety.
In a world where there is increasing pressure (and need) to get to an effective state of zero emissions, the ability to use the market to deliver such outcomes by “trading” emission reductions and sinks between countries and sectors, becomes critical. I illustrated this in a recent post which stepped through the transition illustrated below.
Despite a goal of zero, 300 units of CO2 emissions still remain in hard to abate sectors.
Article 6 delivers an overall reduction, with a net-zero emissions outcome.
The final Madrid text reflects a great deal of effort by the Parties, albeit many of the same issues resurfaced during the discussions and highlighted the differing perspectives, and understanding, of Parties on the role and application of Article 6. This will require all Parties to work hard to bridge differences to see an agreement in 2020.
The entirely bracketed Article 6.2 text looks very good in that it covers the key requirements for a transfer. The definition of the internationally transferred mitigation outcome (ITMO) is sound and importantly includes removals, a clear requirement over the longer term and a necessity for net-zero emissions (see above illustration). The guidance on corresponding adjustments adopts a carbon budget approach to the methodology, which provides the highest standard for environmental integrity of the transfer. The text also provides for Article 6.4 emissions reduction units (6.4ERs) to be transferred via this process.
The 6.2 guidance asks participating Parties to cancel some ITMOs to ensure overall mitigation in global emissions, but importantly this is not a requirement for use of the process. In some instances it may be practical for participating Parties to agree on such a step, but in others it is unlikely to happen. For example, the net flow of allowances between two linked emission trading systems (e.g. Switzerland and the EU) will be an ITMO relative to the respective Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) within which the trading systems sit, but deciding which allowances to remove from the system when hundreds or even thousands of private entities might be involved is both impractical and self-defeating for the link, in that if there is a penalty for trading with a cross-border entity against a domestic entity, then domestic trades will prevail and the synergy of the link will be lost.
Despite the big brackets and the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) only noting the guidance on Article 6, it is very likely that the 6.2 text will be used by Parties as it currently stands. Switzerland and the EU may well be the first Parties to do so as they link their respective trading systems from 1.1.2020. Use of the current 6.2 text may also help legitimize it in the case of the CMA never actually agreeing it.
While the 6.2 guidance was largely (but not completely) without contentious points within the bracketed text, this was not the case for 6.4, where many of the issues going into the COP remained unresolved as it finally closed on Sunday, resulting in the big brackets around everything – remember, in UN parlance, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Unlike 6.2 transfers where Parties can simply start using the text on a bilateral basis, this cannot be the case for 6.4 because it is a centrally administered mechanism with a supervisory body, which cannot exist until all Parties agree to the text. So while there is text that looks to be complete, we are still some distance away from it being agreed and the mechanism beginning to function. This means that some countries looking for foreign direct investment through the mechanism as a means of achieving mitigation will have to wait. It may also mean that they pursue other energy infrastructure projects which could lead to lock-in of a higher emitting system. Nobody wins through such a delay.
Some of the points that remain to be agreed in 6.4 are also issues that shouldn’t really be open for debate; not in a world looking for a successful implementation of the Paris Agreement.
The issue of actions taking place outside the bounds of the NDC is one, when in reality the NDCs need to quickly shift to cover all emitting activities. This should be the first requirement for the agreement that was reached in Madrid that all NDCs are resubmitted next year. As such, there would be no actions taking place outside the bounds of the NDC, which makes the provision entirely superfluous.
A second issue is related to the transition of remaining units (CERs and AAUs) from the mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol, with the request from some Parties that they can be utilized and transferred under the Paris mechanism. For existing projects with future issuance, this shouldn’t be an issue in that any use of the units will be balanced by the necessary corresponding adjustments required under the transfer process of 6.2, although some Parties argued that these projects are outside the scope of current NDCs, to the extent that corresponding adjustments wouldn’t be required. But for vintage units there is a clear reason not to allow future use which sits in the IPCC Special Report on 1.5°C. That report established the current level of warming and reset the carbon budgets for various levels of future warming, with a 1.1.2018 baseline. For example, limiting warming to 1.5°C with a 67% chance has a carbon budget of 420 Gt from 1.1.2018. The Paris Agreement is increasingly being formulated around the finding of the report. As such, events prior to that date are now irrelevant, including any units that may have been created.
There was still no agreement on a share of proceeds from the use of Article 6.4 or on how an overall mitigation in global emissions is determined, key issues for some Parties that reflects the importance of demonstrating the potential of trade to deliver emissions reductions. A simple analysis of the use of Article 6 shows that it alone delivers mitigation that wouldn’t otherwise occur, as I illustrated in the recent post referenced above. Unfortunately, some negotiators didn’t see this point and the call for surrender of units continued, with a minimum haircut of 2% appearing in the bracketed text. Penalties such as this will do nothing to promote the use of the mechanism, but only deter investment.
So there we have it, a fortnight of negotiation that very nearly resulted in a good Article 6 ‘rule-book’. But it didn’t and that is unfortunate for all concerned, but particularly for the successful implementation of the Paris Agreement. Let’s hope that Parties can quickly reconvene around the final Madrid text and bring it to a conclusion, perhaps even before COP26 in Glasgow, in that the formulation of mid-century development strategies and more ambitious NDCs for that COP is in part dependent on the availability of Article 6 transfers.
As the Parties and representatives of the many UNFCCC observer organisations gather in Madrid, there is talk of increased mitigation ambition and the need to step up the global response to the many changes now being seen in the climate system. With the release of the Gap Report, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) noted that greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, also accounting for deforestation, rose to more than 55 gigatonnes, and have risen on average by 1.5% a year for the past decade.
Source: UNEP Gap Report 2019
UNEP stated that global emissions must fall by 7.6% every year from now until 2030 to stay within the 1.5°C ceiling on temperature rises that scientists say is necessary to avoid disastrous consequences.
While this is an important statement, should another clarion call be the overriding theme of COP25?
Perhaps even more important than the call to act is the creation of the economic conditions, mechanisms and processes that will facilitate the shift. The Paris Agreement itself was a critical step in that journey and we have seen in just a few years that the global focus has shifted from talk of percentage reductions to an emphasis on net-zero emissions. This has changed the landscape and given a clear long-run signal to businesses and governments, with the result that numerous countries are now either pondering a 2050 goal of net-zero emissions or have actually established such a goal. Similarly, many businesses and sectors are now thinking along such lines and some have a focus on establishing zero emission business models to grow alongside the (diminishing) legacy systems they have in place.
But the landscape required for global action is far from complete and this is what COP25 can help deliver. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement was left out of the otherwise complete ‘rule-book’ at COP24 in Poland, with the Parties unable to agree on the architecture of cooperative approaches. Superficially this may seem to be a minor issue and certainly not something that would stand in the way of progress, but cooperative approaches should be viewed in the context of global trade which is a key enabler of the global economy.
Trade underpins economic activity and offers society the flexibility to provide the wide range of goods and services that we all benefit from – not everyone can economically produce everything themselves. For example, trade in commodities provides materials for manufacturing and construction that may be unavailable domestically. Trade is often the underpinning reason for foreign direct investment. It encourages the business sector to engage in projects and activities outside their traditional base with a view to bringing goods and services into that base.
This is also true for managing emissions – not all countries can reduce emissions at the same rate and it is certainly not the case that every country can be at zero emissions when needed, so we could use trade to collectively get there through Article 6.
Article 6 is essential for the journey to and destination of net-zero emissions. Recently published research from IETA and the University of Maryland found that cooperation through Article 6 has the potential to reduce the total cost of implementing NDCs significantly, in the order of $320 billion/year in 2030, or alternatively facilitate removal of more emissions, in the order of 9 GtCO2/year in 2030, at no additional cost if those cost savings are reinvested into additional mitigation.
By channeling investment towards zero emission energy systems and expanding the use of natural and artificial sinks, Article 6 can help deliver of the goals of the Paris Agreement. For the most part, this would be pursued through projects enabled by the private sector, including their use of the provisions within Article 6 and the issuance of tradable units by host governments.
Article 6 offers the opportunity to scale the millions of tons of emission reductions that the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol delivered from a multitude of small projects to gigaton reductions from large-impact programmes featured in economy-wide NDCs. To do this, Article 6 must be fit for that purpose and not anchored to the thinking of two decades ago. We learned much from past mechanisms, but they were never designed for the long haul. Carbon would potentially trade at the scale of the commodities that underpin it, such as oil, coal and iron ore. Today, the global crude oil market is around $2 trillion per year (based on producer to end-user sale at $50-$60 per barrel); a global carbon sink market of around $1 trillion per year could be envisaged as underpinning the journey to net-zero emissions in the 2050s (Sky 1.5 Scenario with sinks trading at a notional value of $50 per ton of CO2).
Article 6 establishes a reliable framework within which carbon based trade can be efficiently and expeditiously executed between various national emission markets and projects while ensuring environmental integrity at a global level. This is analogous to the way globally established rules and institutions allow currency markets to function. Article 6 will give confidence to investors in clean energy and emissions mitigation projects and ensures that all countries access the market through a common framework. This in turn delivers cost efficiency and ultimately enhanced mitigation.
COP25 in Madrid must deliver a simple but rigorous rule book for Article 6, which is based on transparent numerical accounting, recognizes both natural and industrial sinks and supports and encourages large scale transactions.
It is Climate Week in New York and among the police barricades at the UN, the protests and traffic there is still the opportunity for new thinking and revisiting important subjects. Perhaps none is more important than the role that carbon pricing must play, yet its impact on the energy transition has been limited to date. One of the reasons for the modest uptake in carbon pricing (largely limited to the EU and a some parts of North America, but others now emerging, e.g. Singapore, South Africa and hopefully China) has been ongoing concerns relating to competition, be it for a single industry or more widely at national level compared to trading partners. By contrast, in the Shell Sky Scenario, government implemented carbon pricing emerges rapidly and robustly in the 2020s as part of a suite of critical policy measures to bend the global emissions curve and begin the long journey to net-zero emissions.
As the report discusses, those involved in the use of carbon pricing recognize the concerns that exist due to differential carbon prices between jurisdictions, currently ranging from zero (many places) to around $100 per ton of carbon dioxide (a few cases in some sectors in a handful of countries). There is the potential risk that high-carbon economic activity may move to regions without a carbon price or with a lower price. This could result in decreased profits and job losses. It could also exacerbate political push-back and undermine the intended environmental outcome of reduced GHG emissions. If this “carbon leakage” occurs, it would be a lose-lose: a loss of competitiveness or economic activity without an environmental gain.
But the report finds there is little evidence to date that carbon pricing has resulted in the relocation of the production of goods and services or investment in these products to other countries. This outcome is consistent with the economic literature assessing the competitive impact of environmental regulation more broadly. There may be several reasons for this, including the observation that carbon price levels have generally been moderate and existing programs include protection for at-risk sectors. In addition, tax rates, labour availability, and infrastructure may be more significant to investment decisions regarding location of production than environmental regulations.
While competitiveness remains a key concern for policymakers considering a price on carbon, the report argues that these concerns should not be overstated. Competitive risks exist primarily for highly emissions intensive and trade-exposed (EITE) sectors and jurisdictions that depend on such sectors. These risks can and should be addressed through a suite of locally tailored policy design choices intended to protect industry from unfair international competition even as they ensure that the incentive and support for low-carbon innovation remains.
The report points out that there are a variety of options to address competitiveness risks, including free allocation of emission rights and border measures. However, these should be based on a location-specific, data-driven evaluation of impacts. Once implemented, these measures should be periodically re-evaluated to ensure their effectiveness and usefulness. To that end, data transparency from industry, at least with government officials, is particularly important for assessing how and when intervention is necessary.
The report also revisited the broader carbon pricing subject for the sake of context and not surprisingly found that carbon pricing is an effective, flexible, and low-cost approach to reducing greenhouse gases (GHGs). Combined with other policies, carbon pricing can help accelerate and ensure a smooth transition to a low-carbon economy. Perhaps the more important context is that carbon pricing is intended to drive a shift away from high-emissions products to low-emissions products and processes. That intent may mean that some firms that compete against these low-emissions substitutes may experience a loss of market share and reduced profits even as others adapt, increase their profitability and develop new business models. That is the point of the instrument and more broadly, it is the point of the transition required to address the climate issue.
The CPLC isn’t the only organisation revisiting the basics of carbon pricing for Climate Week. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) released its own report on the views of the business community on carbon pricing. The new WBCSD paper presents reasons why business supports carbon pricing as a critical enabler to raise climate ambition and calls for governments to put on a price on carbon and develop clear and consistent long-term carbon pricing policies as part of their national commitments and long-term strategies.
My own reflection on all this takes me to the movie Groundhog Day, but perhaps better phrased as Groundhog Decade when it comes to the climate issue. Ten years ago and in some cases more, I contributed to and was involved in the release of similar reports that came to the same conclusions and in some cases from the same organisations. Yet a decade later, the advance of carbon pricing as a preferred policy instrument has been modest at best and in the interim the largest implementation of carbon pricing (the EU ETS) spent much of the time languishing at very low levels and therefore having very little impact on the energy transition; fortunately in the case of the EU that has now changed. Not surprisingly, global greenhouse gas emissions have risen over the last decade.
But this time around something else has to change as there isn’t another decade to just discuss and think about the implementation of carbon pricing – in fact the decade just passed wasn’t thinking time either, it was the time during which all that had been discussed should have been implemented. Now there is no time for prevarication if the goals of the Paris Agreement are to be realised. The Sky Scenario and many other similar pieces of work make that abundantly clear.
The Paris Agreement is built on the principle of increasing ambition through nationally determined contributions (NDC), with the goal of reaching net zero emissions in the second half of the century. In effect, the Agreement is built on a ratchet mechanism that operates on a five year cycle of;
Review of NDCs and their achievement or otherwise;
Assessment of the global impact of all NDCs in terms of overall emissions and the projection of change and therefore temperature;
And finally, re-submission of NDCs with improved ambition.
Source: Shell Sky Scenario
The pieces of this approach sit in various parts of the Agreement and COP21 Decision Text and include the following elements;
Within Article 3:
. . . all Parties are to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts as defined in Articles 4, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 13 with the view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement as set out in Article 2. The efforts of all Parties will represent a progression over time . . .
Within Article 4:
Each Party’s successive nationally determined contribution will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current nationally determined contribution and reflect its highest possible ambition . . . .
Within Article 13:
The purpose of the framework for transparency of action is to provide a clear understanding of climate change action in the light of the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2, including clarity and tracking of progress towards achieving Parties’ individual nationally determined contributions under Article 4.
Within Article 14:
The outcome of the global stocktake shall inform Parties in updating and enhancing, in a nationally determined manner, their actions and support in accordance with the relevant provisions of this Agreement . . . .
At COP24 in Katowice the national negotiators were charged with developing the so-called ‘rulebook’ to fully shape and specify this process, and they did just that. The text that emerged from the COP specifies in great detail how NDCs should be submitted, how GHGs should be measured and reported and importantly, how the NDCs reflect the outcome of the global stocktake and contribute to the goals of the Agreement.
Common NDC timeframes are introduced along with a drive towards a uniform formulaic structure, a registry is proposed to hold NDCs and the history of submissions and there is a requirement to detail the actions taken to deliver the NDC. For example;
Each Party shall provide information on actions, policies and measures that support the implementation and achievement of its NDC under Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, focusing on those that have the most significant impact on GHG emissions or removals and those impacting key categories in the national GHG inventory. This information shall be presented in narrative and tabular format.
How the Party considers that its nationally determined contribution is fair and ambitious in the light of its national circumstances [NB – these are tests against the Agreement itself where it requires increasing ambition in successive NDCs]:
Fairness considerations, including reflecting on equity;
How the Party has addressed Article 4, paragraph 3, of the Paris Agreement;
How the Party has addressed Article 4, paragraph 4, of the Paris Agreement;
How the Party has addressed Article 4, paragraph 6, of the Paris Agreement.
How the nationally determined contribution contributes towards achieving the objective of the Convention as set out in its Article 2;
How the nationally determined contribution contributes towards Article 2, paragraph 1(a), and Article 4, paragraph 1, of the Paris Agreement.
This stringency in NDC design and greenhouse gas reporting potentially takes the Paris Agreement towards a more Kyoto Protocol Annex 1 structure, but with all nations participating rather than just developed countries. That was a world of carbon budgets, clear numerical reduction targets and emissions trading between Parties. Missing from the Katowice package was the emissions trading aspect, which can be delivered by Article 6, although no agreement was reached on its final structure. It is the accounting provisions of Article 6 that tip the balance in favour of a Kyoto lookalike, which perhaps explains some of the issues left on the table.
Then there is the first global stocktake in 2023, but this is where the fault lines within the process begin to show. While global by design, the stocktake may have no individual Party focus and can only check on collective action. Although this is still useful, it has limits in that overall progress under Paris is entirely due to the sum of component parts, which are the NDCs. The text in the rulebook says;
Emphasizes that the outputs of the global stocktake should focus on taking stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement to assess collective progress, have no individual Party focus, and include non-policy prescriptive consideration of collective progress that Parties can use to inform the updating and enhancing, in a nationally determined manner, of their actions and support in accordance with relevant provisions of the Paris Agreement as well as in enhancing international cooperation for climate action;
Further, within Article 15 of the Agreement a mechanism is established to facilitate implementation and promote compliance with the Agreement by the Parties, but this is about compliance with the rules (such as having an NDC), not compliance with the goal, since that is a collective responsibility. At COP24 this was addressed by creating a committee and outlining its responsibilities. Again, there is clear wording to avoid finger-pointing at one or more Parties;
In addressing systemic issues, the Committee shall not address matters that relate to the implementation of and compliance with the provisions of the Paris Agreement by an individual Party.
In the Sky scenario, released last year by Shell, there is a strong dependency on the ratchet mechanism working at its best. The story behind the Sky numbers sees widespread re-submission of NDCs at the earliest possible dates, with much greater ambition adopted and therefore a shift downwards in the global emissions curve during the latter 2020s. To achieve this, strong leadership is required along with an underpinning cooperative spirit that transcends simply turning up at the COPs and reporting back. In such a world finger-pointing isn’t necessary as those countries which may be struggling to raise ambition are helped by others.
The ratchet mechanism is both the strongest and weakest aspect of the Paris Agreement. It devolves action to national governments which works very well, but requires a non-confrontational supportive approach to coax out the best from every country. This latter aspect is struggling to shine through in the current world order.
Note: Scenarios are not intended to be predictions of likely future events or outcomes and investors should not rely on them when making an investment decision with regard to Royal Dutch Shell plc securities. Please read the full cautionary note in http://www.shell.com/skyscenario.