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COP21 Guide #5: Mitigation

Mitigation – how to limit, stop, or reverse the rate of climate change – is, next to the questions of adaptation and Loss & Damage - at the core of climate negotiations. A reduction of our emissions is needed in order to counter the adverse impacts of climate change, as the IPCC claims “the principal driver of long-term warming are the total cumulative emissions of CO2 over time” and in order to limit this, aggressive mitigation is needed. The first global agreement to reduce GHG emissions came in 1997 with the signing of the Kyoto Protocol. Discussions during the negotiations take place under the ADP (The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action). Much of the debate around mitigation circles around two questions: reduction targets and who should reduce emissions.

Reduction Targets

 Under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012), Annex 1 parties agreed to reduce emissions by an average of five per cent against 1990 levels and in the second commitment period (2013-2020), parties committed to reductions of at least 18 per cent below 1990 levels. Looking at the first period of these commitments, it seems like about half of the Parties made cuts to reduce their emissions. However, uncertainty is growing of whether these commitments will be enough or not to curb the growing impacts of climate change.

 For many years scientists have agreed that keeping global warming under 2°C is a viable target. However, both the IPCC in its 5th report and UNEP (2012) argue that this might not be enough and started calling for a revision to a 1,5°C goal, and names the discrepancy between Parties’ commitment and what is needed the “emissions gap”. Business as usual and emission reduction proposals will not be enough to stay under 2°C. Furthermore, the European Parliament flags in their report on the climate negotiations that the fact that there will not be an even temperature rise across the earth means that even though the average temperature rise might be 2°C there could be places that experience rises of 4°C, which would result in vulnerable societies and pose a threat to human security and economy.

According to the European Parliament’s report, the aggregated reduction targets of the Annex 1 Parties will produce a 3-16% reduction in 2020 depending on how the rules in the Kyoto Protocol are accounted for: conditional, unconditional, lenient, or strict. Reaching an agreement on this is of great importance to attain real GHG reductions and pave the way for a new agreement with the potential of reversing the rate of climate change.

 Moreover, further reductions are blocked by a surplus of assigned amount units (AAU). As unused allowances from the first commitment period can be used in the second, there is a possibility that for example formally centrally planned economies in Europe now can emit more than they used to while developing economically. To counter these tendencies, a decision was made in Doha in 2012 to limit the transfer of units the second commitment period and several countries such as Australia, Norway and the EU-27 decided not to purchase AAUs from other countries. Likewise, emissions from land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) have not been taken into account in many of the calculations and it is estimated by the European Parliament report that this omission has had a significant impact on the positive reduction numbers. The EU is now planning to take LULUCF into account, yet the INDC (Intended Nationally Determined Contribution) does not yet clarify how this will happen.

Who should reduce and why?

 The second large question within the field of mitigation is the issue of historical emissions and who should bear the responsibility for reducing emissions. Many developing countries argue that the aggregated emissions that are now causing climate change were primarily the result of developed countries’ industrialisation and economic development. Thus, they should take more responsibility in reducing emissions, what is in the UNFCCC called common but differentiated responsibility. Should developing countries be subject to not being able to develop economically and achieve the same standard of life as in developed countries? Moreover, developing countries do not have the same access to finance because of their history. G77-China has a clear stand on this issue, arguing that historical responsibility is important and that the negotiations for a post-2015 agreement should focus on Annex 1 Parties adopting restrictive policies to reduce emissions covering all sectors of the economy.

 LDCs ("least developed countries") have asked developed countries to align their reduction targets with 2°C, while they themselves have committed to voluntary Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs). In turn developed countries have called upon emerging developing countries to have ambitious policies on mitigation and increase the transparency. In Doha, a work programme to understand the diversity of LDC’s NAMAs was established, looking to improve capacity building, funding etc. since only a few have been implemented. Most recently in Warsaw the LDCs were called upon to submit their NAMAs and raise their ambitions. It looks like the situation between developing and developed countries is the same leading up to this year’s negotiations.

This articles is part of our COP climate guide. The other articles in this series are:

  1. What is at stake in Paris?
  2. Human rights and climate change
  3. Climate financing
  4. Differentiation
  5. Mitigation
  6. Adaption
  7. Loss and damage

Learn more about the climate negotiations from FYEG's COP report which you can download here.