The five-year review cycles imply an unprecedented opportunity for civil society engagement in long-term development planning.
This architecture is markedly different from the Kyoto Protocol’s, which approach would have meant negotiating a concept of what each country should do, and then a mechanism of enforcement—something which would have taken many more years and may have been of dubious effect or ambition as we’d have landed in a lowest-common-denominator arrangement. Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement does imply that countries have some responsibility to what they’re describing as climate action for a common good.
There’s also provision for a self-determined long-term strategy that countries will return “by 2020” (See Decision 36, and Article 4, para 19 of the Paris Agreement), describing their pathways for low-carbon development and ultimately moving to emissions neutrality, in alignment with the long-term goal.
Given that international enforcement is so problematic, who polices these actions and plans? Although there can be a degree of diplomatic pressure, the heart of the enforcement for ambition is, I believe, with the citizenry of each country. This is perhaps the most remarkable outcome of the new climate action regime—that, given the self-determined design at the heart of the regime, that there’s more power in a country’s own citizenship and civil society in general to guide a low-carbon development pathways than may lie in other sovereign countries.
If we recall that governments mobilised great efforts of public consultations in preparing their preliminary contributions (INDCs) for the Paris Agreement, then it’s clear that the new regime’s iterative five-year cycle implies that this consultative process will be more regular, even in the longer-term context of the 2020 presentation of low-emission development strategies noted above.
There are great public and economic benefits stemming from moving to low-carbon, resilient development, not only in terms of new development and employment opportunities, but also in terms of health and resiliency benefits, as adapted societies will necessarily have better water and energy independence than at any previous time: a greater share of renewable energy sources in a domestic grid implies independence from international energy sourcing arrangements—this is the first opportunity for this since the industrial revolution—as well as the opportunity for more revenues to remain within an economy. Moreover, there are clear health and quality-of-life enhancements associated with better urban planning, as well as the benefits of energy independence, adaptation and clean air.
In this new arrangement, it will be essential and natural for citizens to have a more informed role in the shaping of national development pathways, reminding governments of their own climate action promises, the commitment to sustainable and resilient development, and the myriad of benefits inherent to an early and earnest adoption of the new development paradigm.
These requirements imply that civil society will have unprecedented engagement in long-term, low-carbon sustainable development planning through the consultative phases of these cycles, which will now be part of national planning, and which consultations by necessity must cover longer-term periods than merely political cycles (which may sometimes hinder such considerations), in order to secure great benefits that equally outlast political cycles, and the avoidance of even greater costs that also outlast political cycles. This is, I believe, among the hidden triumphs of the Paris Agreement.
*Gilberto Arias, sustainable development policy and practice with the Energeia Network