1. When can the review to “periodically assess the adequacy of the long-term global goal, in the light of the ultimate objective of the Convention, and the overall progress made towards achieving it” under Part VII of the Durban Decision (http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2011/cop17/eng/09a01.pdf) next be undertaken? When must it be undertaken?
2. Can the scope of the review be extended (beyond the previous mandate) to include other topics in light of the Paris Agreement (such as the new 1.5 degree goal or means of implementation and support)? What limits exist on the scope of the review? What steps should be taken by the parties now?
1. When can this review next be undertaken? When must it be undertaken?
The 2013-2015 review was completed in December 2015, with the COP noting that it had fulfilled its mandate as contained in Decisions 1/CP.16, 1/CP.17 and 1/CP.18 (Decision 10/CP.21, para.12). The same Decision recalls that the next review should be conducted in accordance with decision 2/CP.17 (Durban decision), paragraph 167: this provides for subsequent reviews to be undertaken following the adoption of an IPCC assessment report or at least every seven years.
COP decisions are generally not considered legally binding but in practice Parties typically honour COP decisions because they are taken by consensus and generally reflect the collective will of the Parties.
However, COP decisions are by their nature less robust and provide less legal certainty than other kinds of instruments since provisions in COP decisions can be easily overruled and supplanted by subsequent COP decisions.
So, it must be observed that the Parties are free in principle to vary the timelines of the next review as envisaged under para 167 of the Durban decision. However, the fact that decision 10/CP.21 from Paris makes reference to para 167 signals the Parties’ intention to stick to the timing schedules it provides.
With the above in mind, there have been no decisions that directly contradict the criteria for the timing of future reviews (i.e. following adoption of an IPCC assessment report or within 7 years). Nonetheless it is still not clear what the timeline for the review actually is and there are a few points to consider.
The timing of the first review was explicitly set to occur between 2013 and 2015 at the latest and was not contingent on a triggering event (although it coincided with the publication of the fifth assessment report during 2013 and 2014). The second review, on the other hand, would be the first review to be triggered by an event.
First trigger (following the adoption of an IPCC assessment report)
What counts as an “assessment report”?
Paragraph 21 of the Decision 1/CP.21 adopting the Paris Agreement invited the IPCC to provide a special report in 2018 on the impacts of global warming of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels and related GHG emission pathways. Drawing on the COP invitation, the IPCC at its 43rd session in April 2016, decided to prepare such a “Special Report” by 2018 (Decision IPCC/XLIII-6, para 2).
It is debatable whether an IPCC special report would be considered an “assessment report” for the purposes of the review. IPCC assessment reports are more or less an official species of publication and are published every 5-7 years. In fact, the IPCC distinguishes between “assessment reports” and other publications which include “special reports”, “methodological reports”, etc. So it is not likely that the special report on 1.5 degree pathways would trigger a review in place of the next (sixth) assessment report.
What counts as “adoption” of an assessment report?
Assessment reports are typically welcomed and acknowledged by COP decisions. For example, the fifth assessment report was formally welcomed in Lima in 2014 (decision 12/CP.20). Similarly, the fourth assessment report was formally welcomed in Bali in 2007 (decision /CP.13).
If we consider these decisions as adopting the relevant assessment reports the first trigger would occur once the sixth assessment report is adopted by a COP decision. Assessment reports are typically published every 5-7 years. However, the IPCC has publicly stated that it will try to publish future assessment reports every 5 years to correspond with the 5-year cycles of the UNFCCC regime/negotiations. Assuming the sixth assessment report is published only 5 years after the fifth assessment report it could be adopted at COP 25 in 2019.
When exactly is “following” adoption?
The review will occur following adoption of an assessment report but it isn’t clear how soon after adoption. As mentioned above, the second review would be the first that could be triggered in this way so there is no precedent of how soon after adoption a review would begin.
From the common meaning and usage of “following” there is no specific time by which the review would need to happen but the review should follow within a reasonable amount time. Considering that assessment reports are published and adopted every 5-7 years, the second trigger (discussed below) would generally preclude extended delays between the adoption of an assessment report and the initiation of a review. Further considering that the Paris Agreement envisages 5-year contribution cycles and a global stock take every 5 years and that the IPCC is striving to publish its assessment reports every 5 years, it’s conceivable that the Parties would try to synchronise subsequent reviews with the contribution cycles. Finally, the general scope of the periodic global stocktake under the Paris Agreement overlaps with the general scope of the periodic review so Parties might again want to coordinate the work to inform both processes.
Second trigger (7 years after the previous review)
When do the 7 years begin to run?
The first review was conducted between 2013 and 2015. One option is to consider the 7 years to begin to run from 2013 (i.e. when the previous review was initiated). This would correspond to a review being initiated every 7 years and for the second review it would mean being initiated 5 years after the conclusion of the first review (and 7 years after it’s initiation). This corresponds to a second review happening by 2020.
Another option, and probably the most likely, is to consider the 7 years to begin running from the end of the first review. This would correspond to a second review happening by 2022.
Other key timeframes to take into account
In the decision adopting the Paris Agreement the Parties decided to convene a facilitative dialogue in 2018. This facilitative dialogue essentially serves the same purpose as the global stocktake under the Paris Agreement but for the period before the Paris Agreement is expected to apply.
The draft conclusions proposed by the Chairs of the permanent subsidiary bodies (SBSTA and SBI) on 19 May requested the SBI and SPSTA to prepare a recommendation on the scope of the next review for consideration by the COP by no later than 2018, as appropriate.
Considering the above points, it is unclear when exactly the second review will take place but it is unlikely to occur before 2019. The latest it could be initiated is 2022. Of course, the Parties (at a COP meeting) could always decide to change the criteria for when the second review would be triggered or they could outright decide a specific date.
2) Can the scope of the review be extended (beyond the previous mandate) to include other topics in light of the Paris Agreement (such as the new 1.5 degree goal or means of implementation and support)? What limits exist on the scope of the review? What steps should be taken by the parties now?
The scope of the 2013-2015 review was decided at COP18. Para 79 of Decision 1/CP.18 provided that the review should:
- periodically assess the adequacy of the long-term global goal, in the light of the ultimate objective of the Convention,
- and the overall progress made towards achieving it.
The Durban Decision (at para 160) envisaged that the review should take into account inter alia, an assessment of overall aggregate effect of the steps taken by the parties in order to achieve the ultimate objective of the convention as well as consideration of strengthening the long-term global goal, referencing various matters presented by the science, including in relation to temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Reference to the 1.5 C threshold was therefore already made in the Durban Decision.
In Paris, the COP requested the SBI and SBSTA to consider the scope of the next review with a view to forwarding a recommendation for consideration by the Conference of the Parties by no later than 2018, as appropriate. Parties also decided
“in relation to the adequacy of the long-term global goal, and in the light of the ultimate objective of the Convention, that the goal is to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;” (Decision 10/CP.21, para.4)
Thus, whilst the scope of the next periodic review is not yet decided, Parties have clearly expressed their intention that consideration of the long-term goal and its adequacy should also take into account a 1.5 °C goal as incorporated in the Paris Agreement’s purpose (in Article 2).
This is further supported by the same Decision noting information gaps in the 2013-2015 review and encouraging “the scientific community to address information and research gaps identified during the structured expert dialogue, including scenarios that limit warming to below 1.5 °C relative to pre-industrial levels by 2100 and the range of impacts at the regional and local scales associated with those scenarios;” (Decision 10/CP.21, para.8)
It is now for the SBSTA and the SBI to decide on the scope of the next periodic review. On 19 May 2016, the SBSTA and the SBI agreed to further consider the scope of the next periodic review at their forty-sixth sessions, due to take place in May 2017. Discussions on the scope of the review will resume by then unless revised draft conclusions, to be discussed on 24 May 2016, change this timing.
The scope of the next review can be extended based on receipt by SBSTA/SBI of additional inputs (in response to para 8 above), the specific wording of paragraph 21 of Decision 1/CP.21 which recommends IPCC to consider impacts of global warming by reference to the 1.5 C goal and the connection of the periodic review to this IPCC report and finally Article 2 of the Paris Agreement.
As regards the next steps to be taken by the parties, parties are free to submit any additional inputs based on information gaps to SBSTA/SBI.