Briefing Note 11 – How Can We Enhance Ambition Towards Sustainable Net Zero?


How Does the Paris Agreement Aim to Increase Ambition over Time?


Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on their contribution to climate change mitigation. The individual contributions each country needs to make to achieve the global goal are determined by their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The agreement establishes two linked processes to promote rising ambition, each on a five-year cycle. 


The first process is a “global stocktake” to assess collective progress toward meeting the agreement’s long-term goals. Parties will then submit new NDCs that are informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake. The agreement sets the expectation that each party’s successive NDC will represent progression beyond its previous one hence achieving a ratcheting up of ambition over time.


What Do the Current NDCs Say and What Happens Next?


Analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of research institutions, concluded that the current NDCs are likely to result in warming of about 3C by 2100. Revised NDCs must be submitted ahead of COP 26, and the first formal stocktake will then take place in 2023, followed by the submission of revised NDCs by 2025.


Might Brexit Derail COP 26 Ambitions?


It is widely acknowledged that the success of COP 21 in Paris was made possible by the considerable efforts of the French diplomats over the months and years preceding the meeting.  There is a concern that the British government will fail to match this effort because Brexit is continuing to take so much resource and attention.  


Without proper preparation there is danger that realistic targets of what we want achieved will not even be set, making the chances of a successful outcome even harder to reach.


What Else Must the UK Do to Further Ambition at COP 26?


The UK is the first major economy in the world to pass laws to reach net zero by 2050. However there is a clear disconnect between that level of ambition and any clear policies/mechanisms to get there. The UK must urgently put policies in place to show other countries it is willing and able to make the transition to net zero. 


At the same time it must unlock resources to help less developed countries with mitigation and adaptation measure, in particular, in relation to the US$160bn of loss and damage that climate change is already doing.


How will the development of negative emissions technology be supported?


In 2007, Drax power station produced 22m tonnes of CO2 making it the largest single source of CO2 in the UK.  Since then it has converted four of its six 645MW units from coal to biomass. It did this because of two government energy policies:


  1. The carbon price (EU ETS price plus the Carbon Price Support) increased the cost of coal generation; and 

  2. Subsidies for renewable generation under the Renewables Obligation and early stage Contract for Difference.

Now, Drax is turning its attention to BECCS, capturing (and releasing) about 1 tonne of CO2 per day. However without significant government subsidies it has little potential to develop BECCS technology. Currently negative emissions have no commercial value and that must change if they are to develop.

Although strong carbon prices are touted as the most economically optimal choice, a carbon price high enough to make BECCS economic is unlikely to be politically acceptable since it would raise the wholesale electricity price for consumers. Therefore a direct subsidy of one kind or another seems the only way forward. 


What Areas Are Governments Currently Accused of Turning A Blind Eye to in Regards to Transparency and Trust?


The International Monetary Fund estimate about $5 trillion is currently spent subsidising fossil fuels each year. It’s hard for governments to establish any kind of net zero credibility without this being addressed. Aviation and shipping are not explicitly included under the Paris Agreement; if these were included in NDCs, they would be under much more scrutiny. There have also been no repercussions of the US ceasing further participation in the Paris Agreement in 2017.

What Is Holding Us Back from Targeting Net Zero?

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change (CCC) estimate over 60% of abatement will involve societal/behavioural changes. However to date, most of the focus has been on achieving cost reductions for low-carbon technologies. Economics has tended to dominate the narrative, whilst the moral argument tends to attract less attention from the press. Ambition under the Paris Agreement will only align with net zero when a significant volume of the world’s population think it’s the right thing to do. The economic and diplomatic effort invested in the Paris Agreement should be re-aligned to this end. 


What Does Achieving Net Zero Conclude and Recommend?


  • The current NDCs are likely to result in warming of about 3C by 2100


  • It’s difficult for governments to establish net zero credibility without addressing the subsidising of fossil fuels


  • The majority of the UK’s focus has been on achieving cost reductions for low-carbon technologies, but it is estimated that over half of abatement will involve societal and behavioural changes


  • The economic and diplomatic efforts invested in the Paris Agreement should be re-aligned to bridge the gap between ambition and achieving net zero