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Paris Agreement: It's All In The Numbers

One of the noteworthy features of the 160+ nationally determined contributions (NDC) submitted to the UNFCCC following the adoption (and now ratification) of the Paris Agreement, is that no two are alike. True to the Paris Agreement, countries have submitted a description of their contribution, with most offering some indication of the emissions outcome, but the way this information is transmitted varies considerably by country.

In May 2016, the UNFCCC released a synthesis report of the NDCs, aggregating them in the only way that makes sense given the nature of climate issue, by cumulative emissions. Every NDC was turned into a cumulative carbon release to the atmosphere (i.e. quantification), which were then summed and compared to the ideal global carbon budget for a ‘well below 2°C’ pathway. Needless to say, the UNFCCC analysts almost certainly had to make numerous assumptions to do the calculations.

The problem that confronted the analysts was that not one of the NDCs was presented in the format they needed. Many offered an end goal in 2025 or 2030, such as the EU which is targeting a 40% reduction by 2030 against a 1990 baseline. Baseline years also vary across the NDCs. In most NDCs, little to nothing is said about what happens in the intervening years, so an assumption must be made about the likely trajectory. Others were presented as an expected reduction against a notional future emissions trajectory and some were presented without any emissions trajectory at all.

The variation in NDCs is now a well-known story, but the lack of quantification of NDCs has other implications which extend past the obvious analysis of the environmental outcome. It also limits the ability for carbon trade between the NDCs and potentially runs up against the accounting provisions of the Paris Agreement.

Those accounting provisions are dotted throughout the Agreement, but Article 4.13 is perhaps the most comprehensive. It states;

Parties shall account for their nationally determined contributions. In accounting for anthropogenic emissions and removals corresponding to their nationally determined contributions, Parties shall promote environmental integrity, transparency, accuracy, completeness, comparability and consistency, and ensure the avoidance of double counting, in accordance with guidance adopted by the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement.

The above could be interpreted as a post-NDC (i.e. after the period for which the NDC applies) true-up of emissions, but even that requires summing all the emissions across all the years of the NDC, not just ticking off actions against a list or noting that emissions in the final year were as expected. Unless cumulative emissions are established for the whole period of the NDC, the environmental integrity of the NDC is questionable as it is cumulative emissions that determine the environmental outcome. Only a full assessment of the NDC in terms of cumulative emissions meets the other requirements of completeness, accuracy and comparability.

Further, post-NDC quantification of emissions is unlikely to be sufficient for trading purposes, or in the language of the Paris Agreement, internationally transferred mitigation outcomes. This is because transfers out of a country require a local corresponding adjustment. While this could also be done post-NDC, it should be done at the time of the transfer such that the country can determine the new trajectory it needs to be on and ensure policy measures are suitably modified to ensure compliance, particularly if transfers are large compared to national emissions (say, more than 5%). Of course, if both countries were operating economy wide cap-and trade systems the correction would be automatic, but that is hardly the case today.

The above makes quantification of NDCs an important and perhaps necessary step for the Paris Agreement, but agreement on this by the Parties appears to be distant. However, such a step is inevitable. As countries get closer to declaring full emissions compliance with the Paris Agreement, i.e. achieving net-zero emissions (NZE) or ‘a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases’ in the words of the Agreement itself, quantification becomes essential.

NZE will occur when the country in question has balanced the remaining emissions with sinks and there will likely be some remaining emissions well into the 22nd century. Those sinks will either be developed locally or purchased internationally via the transfer provision of Article 6. But both the buyer and seller of such sinks will have to implement careful accounting to ensure the integrity of the net-zero claim. This takes us back to the quantification discussion.

The Paris Agreement is rigorous in concept and the negotiators of 2015 should be commended for the thoughtfulness of their text. But as the delivery of the Paris ‘rulebook’ approaches, that same rigor does not yet appear to have the full backing of all the Parties.

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Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Feb 15, 2018 5:31 pm GMT


Here are some numbers regarding CO2 and capital costs. About $1.5 TRILLION/y in RE investments are required to bend the curve downwards to achieve COP21 CO2 targets by 2030, and even more per year thereafter.

The world CO2eq, all sources, including Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), are on a “business as usual” trajectory to become about 64.7 b Mt by 2030. If so, the increase above pre-industrial would be about 4.3 C by 2100.

There has been a reduction in the rate of increase of emissions during the past few years. The IPCC BAU CO2eq projection for 2030 is based on a higher CO2eq growth rate than the actual growth rates in 2015 and 2016. However, a greater growth rate is expected in 2017. See URL.

World investments in RE systems have averaged about $280 b/y for the 2011 – 2016 period (6 years). That level likely would lead to CO2eq emissions of about 64.7 b Mt by 2030. China has spent about $80 b/y during the past 3 years to finally deal with its horrendous pollution problems.

2) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 58.9 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of all policies and pledges made prior to COP21. If so, the increase would be about 3.7 C by 2100. Investments of at least $600 b/y, starting immediately, would be required to achieve the IPCC trajectory of 58.9 b Mt by 2030. See note 1.

3) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 55.2 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of UNCONDITIONAL COP21 pledges by 2030, per IPCC. If so, the increase would be about 3.2 C by 2100.

4) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 52.8 b Mt by 2030, with full implementation of CONDITIONAL COP21 pledges by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 3.0 C by 2100.

5) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 41.8 b Mt by 2030, with an ADDITIONAL 52.8 – 41.8 = 11.0 b Mt of CO2eq emissions reduction by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 2.0 C by 2100. That additional reduction is not trivial, as it is equivalent to about 11 times the total annual emissions of the entire EU28 transportation sector.

6) The world CO2eq emissions, all sources, would be about 36.5 b Mt by 2030, with an ADDITIONAL 52.8 – 36.5 = 16.3 b Mt of CO2eq emissions reduction by 2030. If so, the increase would be about 1.5 C by 2100. Investments of at least $1.5 trillion/y, starting immediately, would be required to achieve the IPCC trajectory of 36.5 b Mt by 2030.

NOTE 1: Item 2 is a big if, because since COP1 (Kyoto-1990), all major developed nations have failed to fully implement all policies and pledges to decrease CO2eq emissions.

NOTE 2: The US had pledged a CO2eq reduction of about 1 b Mt from 2015 – 2015. However, due to the US withdrawal from COP21, that reduction may be less, which means other nations would have to make up the difference, not only regarding emission reduction, but, more importantly, also regarding the scheduled US contribution to the Green Climate Fund of about $25 b in 2020, and much greater annual amounts thereafter. China and India, major polluters and claiming “developing nation status”, would not pay a dime.

Sequestration of CO2 on a Massive Scale: The IPCC assumes emission reductions for each year after 2030, to ultimately achieve:

– ZERO emissions by about 2080 to achieve 1.5 C by 2100
– ZERO emissions by about 2100 to achieve 2.0 C by 2100

This would require sequestration of CO2 on a huge scale. Wherever sequestration demonstration plants were built during the past 15 years, all ended up as expensive failures.

NOTE: “This is a miracle scenario of the IPCC, in which the climate models reach 1.5 C. The scenario assumes that carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, which stores carbon dioxide in large quantities underground, is to be used on a large scale. But this would be far too expensive. The scenario is based on self-delusion.”

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on Feb 15, 2018 5:33 pm GMT


Addition to above comment.

Capital Cost Estimate 1: Current world investments in RE systems of about $280 b/y, which have been about the same for the 2011 – 2016 period (6 years), likely would lead to emissions of about 64.7 b Mt by 2030; China has spent about $80 b/y during the past 3 years to finally deal with its horrendous pollution problems. See Figures 2 (worldwide investments) and 4 (China, EU and US investments) of URL.

As the RE percentage of the world’s primary energy has increased from 19.0% in 2011 to a mere 19.3% in 2015, it is obvious, this spending rate has been grossly inadequate for decades, as it did not prevent the world’s emissions from steadily increasing, and it did not cause a sufficient shift towards renewables.

Investments of at least $600 b/y, starting immediately, would be required to achieve the IPCC trajectory of 59.4 b Mt by 2030, which is based on full implementation of all existing policies and pledges made prior to COP21.

However, table 5 shows, the world would need to immediately increase spending on RE systems from about $280 b/y to at least $1.5 trillion/y, a factor of 5, to achieve 1.5 C by 2100.

Even higher levels of investment of $2.0 to $2.5 trillion/y would be needed each year after 2030 to reduce emissions to ZERO by 2080 to achieve 1.5 C by 2100, per IPCC trajectory, plus investments for partial wind and solar system replacements and refurbishments, while expanding new systems, all while the gross world product, GWP, and population likely would be increasing.

Based on the dismal outcomes of twenty prior COPs, starting with Kyoto in 1990, the additional capital investments to achieve such huge emission reductions likely would not take place.

NOTE: According to current World Bank data, the GWP was about $75.6 trillion in 2016, at current market prices and exchange rates. The total GDP of high-income countries was about $48.4 trillion. This is the appropriate base for funding RE investment costs, because only the higher-income countries are committed to contribute to the cost of the emission reductions of COP21. These costs would be for their own economies plus for the economies of poorer countries, such as India, Turkey, etc., which were promised at least $100 b in 2020 from the Green Climate Fund, and more each year thereafter, to entice them to sign up for COP21. If the US leaves COP21, the base would become about $29.0 trillion.

NOTE: It would be very unlikely, the remaining higher-income countries would commit up to 4% of their GDP to fund the required emission reductions to limit the temperature increase to 2 C or 1.5 C by 2100. For example, the US commitment would be about 0.04 x $20 trillion/y = $80 b/y, of which $55 b would be spent on RE within the US and about $25 b/y would be given to the UN’s Green Climate Fund. Without the US putting at least $25 b/y into the Green Climate Fund, the other countries would have to make up the difference. No wonder the hue and cry, and lambasting of the US, and “no renegotiation”. Turkey declared: No money, no ratification!

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