Briefing Paper: The need for 5 year Commitment Periods in the Paris Protocol – Why a “review” is inadequate

Introduction

The Paris climate conference hopes to reach a new global agreement that will help to address anthropogenic climatic change. It has already been decided that this anticipated agreement will enter into effect in 2020. One of the most important issues for Paris will be the periodicity of Parties’ mitigation commitments, ie the length of the commitment periods.

The decision on commitment period length will define how responsive the new global climate regime is to new findings in climate science. Such findings could be more than marginal new discoveries, such as evidence of major changes in the climate system, including activation of positive feedback loops that could require an emergency mitigation response by the global community.

It will also define how responsive the new global climate regime is to technological and economic changes. For example, the rapid fall in the cost of solar PV technology in recent years was unanticipated by most analysts, with capacity cost having roughly halved in 4 years to 2013. Such rapid maturation of other sustainable technologies could spur increased willingness for climate action being expressed as stronger commitments under the UNFCCC. The length of the commitment period would therefore be a powerful determinant as to whether new technologies and new economic realities are adequately reflected in the global response to climate change. Some businesses, have spoken out in favor of shorter commitment periods for this reason. In Bonn, launching IKEA’s commitment to spend $1 billion on climate action, the company’s Chief Sustainability Officer Steve Howard noted that a 10 year cycle would result in missed opportunities because “the low hanging fruit grows back”.

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