This post was updated on Dec. 11 to clarify details.
University, corporate, and government employees are intimately familiar with the regular drill of performance and outcome reviews. Negotiators drafting a new climate change agreement in Paris are trying to create a similar system in which countries periodically assess their progress toward meeting pledges to control greenhouse gas emissions.
But just when those reviews should start remains a big sticking point at the talks, which are scheduled to end on Dec. 11. As with many thorny issues that crop up in climate negotiations, the issue pits some of the world’s poorest countries against richer ones.
Thus far, 185 countries have made voluntary pledges, called intended nationally determined contributions, to control their greenhouse gas emissions. These can be compared to a worker’s performance goals. Governments’ collective outcome goal is to hold average annual temperature rise to 2° C over preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Negotiators in Paris are even entertaining the possibility of eventually making this goal a 1.5° C temperature increase.
Governments broadly agree that like employees, countries need to periodically take stock of their collective accomplishments, document their progress for international review, and compare them against their domestic performance goals — their pledges.
But even more, these reviews would provide an opportunity for countries to who are doing well — or are outpacing — their pledges to take on more ambitious emission controls. This is like employees who take on additional performance goals in hopes of a raise or promotion. In the case of the climate, ratcheting down emissions further would get the world closer to the 2° C rise. That’s because if all current pledges are fulfilled, they would restrain global warming to a little less than 3° C by 2100.
A 3° C increase is projected to inundate low-lying island nations with rising seas and intensify drought and flooding in some African countries. These countries that are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change have extremely low levels of emissions. They are forced to depend on countries that are responsible for most of the world’s greenhouse gas releases to cut these more aggressively over time.
They see their survival depending on holding human-caused temperature rise to 1.5° C. To get there will require reviews starting in 2018 and revised pledges that start kicking in as of 2020, they argue. Waiting even a couple years more drastically reduces the odds of hitting 1.5°, they say.
But they face powerful opposition. A bloc of industrialized countries — Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, Norway, the Russian Federation, Ukraine and the U.S. — want the reviews to start in 2020, the year the Paris agreement is to officially take effect. A draft version of the pact released on Dec. 10 “invites” countries to update their pledges with deeper emission cuts as early as 2020.
Unlike employee performance reviews, which generally take place once a year, the pledge assessments would take place less often. The draft version calls for them every five years, regardless of what year they start.