Paul Allen on why a zero emissions goal is vital to the UN process

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Report from the Bonn UN Conference (7th June)

 The kind of agreement reached in Paris is a vital opportunity to give a clear signal that the message from the science has been recognized. From what I can gather, the word on the conference floor is that Paris is unlikely to be able to offer the single over-arching final agreement that will fully deal with climate challenge, but a great many people are working very hard to set up an on-going process that remains capable to enable both mitigation and adaptation actions sufficient to meet the task.

Paul Allen at the climate talks in Bonn

There is consensus that mitigation must remain top of the list. But to move from ‘missing the target’ to ‘hitting the target’ requires a process which can quickly aggregate the results the collective INDC’s which countries are promising, to show how far short we are falling from where we know we need to be. The process also requires monitoring to check that any promised emissions reduction is actually delivered successfully. Adaptation is also on the radar, and there is recognition it is intrinsically linked to development and therefore requires synergy with other goals, with the flexibility to up or down scale depending the success of the mitigation ambitions.

However, to deliver both these processes efficiently the process urgently needs to establish a long-term vision, based in what the evidence demands, setting the right priorities on the table. This allows countries, particularly developing countries to plan ahead, around financial incentive and support mechanisms. So we all need to send the right political signals to induce governments to offer INDC’s that collectively add up to the challenge. Unfortunately there seems to be little talk of direct scrutiny or accreditation of INDCs by international peers, however a clear aggregation system must become the driver, with a focus on showing the (hopefully ever decreasing) gap between our cumulative emissions commitments and what we know is needed.

Five plus Five

Given the current gap between action and evidence, even if it cannot manage to offer all that is required, it is vital the post-Paris process must not ‘lock’ us into an inadequate path. Given the growing pressure from the gap between our aggregated commitments and the clear targets from the science, and the fact that the world is changing quickly, the commitments under the Paris agreement must remain ‘upwardly mobile’ enough to allow for cultural, economic and technological shifts.

So many people here in Bonn are talking about a system which must be set up to encourage the parties to raise their ambition as the cycles of the post Paris COP process proceed. There is a call for a 5-year review process to allow increasing ambition, driven by advancing evidence from the science, maturing mitigation technology and the need for advancing adaptation actions.

A further suggestion is the dynamic ‘5+5’ process that proposes each INDC mitigation commitment has a 5 year fixed period (giving certainty), but is also accompanied by an indicative profile for the subsequent 5 years (allowing flexibility from a known point). ‘5+5’ means we know where we are and we also know where we think we are going, but it all remains flexible. This is to be supported by a parallel dual aggregation process (fixed + flexible) to focus ambition.

This is where we see the true value of a clear evidence based long-term goal such as zero-emissions – especially as we know our current INDC’s do not collectively be up to the task. Long-term predictability is also important to the business “community’ – and is their preferred option. Similarly cultural shifts and social changes require clear direction and focused goals. Zero gives long-term predictability, it is a useful compliment providing a practical signal to every level of society to drive planning and ambition.

Getting to Zero by is ambitious but technically achievable with existing technology. It would require increased levels of national and multilateral collaboration and co-operation – the barriers are both political and cultural, but a Zero emissions target is what the process clearly needs, as it gives a clear signal to policy makers, industry, finance and citizens that planning for change is not just important – it is unavoidable. This is why CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain team has been here in Bonn, working alongside Track0 to pull together a wide spectrum of global scenarios showing how we can reach a zero, or near zero endpoint, and making it available to all.

Other perspectives on the need for a long-term goal can be found at:


Paul Allen, Centre for Alternative Technology, 7th June 2015