COP26 delay offers window for getting NDCs right

Posted on 03 June 2020

On a recent webinar organised by WWF and the OECD, speakers discussed how governments can align their climate action plans with efforts to rebuild in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The delay of this year’s COP26 climate talks offers governments a crucial window to improve their national emissions plans and ensure they are better aligned with efforts to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to speakers on a OECD-WWF hosted webinar on 29 May.

“It is good to have one more year, because we’re not there yet,” says Laurence Tubiana, the chief executive of the European Climate Foundation and, in her former role as France’s climate change ambassador, one of the architects of the Paris Agreement. “COP26 was always going to be difficult because of the bad politics within some big emitters, but COVID has changed the dynamic – although in which direction it is not clear yet,” she said.

Tubiana was speaking at a webinar organised by WWF and the OECD to discuss how governments might seek to align their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) with plans to rebuild economies battered by efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. These NDCs set out countries’ emissions targets, and the climate policies and regulations to deliver them, as part of the Paris Agreement process.

Signatory governments were due to publish revised NDCs to coincide with COP26, originally scheduled to take place in Glasgow at the end of this year. On 28 May, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat confirmed that the talks will be delayed until November 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The extra year we now have gives us time to really think about how we prepare these NDCs in the context of the longer-term strategy of how we recover from a huge, unprecedented crisis,” said Simon Buckle, head of the OECD’s climate change, biodiversity and water division.

“They have to be integrated into the whole of government,” he added. “It’s not good enough to have NDCs submitted to the UNFCCC that may or may not bear a relationship to the other strategic planning processes within a country.”

“This is not an opportunity, this is a ‘must do’,” said Roberto Esmeral, vice minister in Colombia’s Ministry of Environment & Sustainable Development. “We have to align NDCs with our post-COVID society and the new realities of national economies.” He gave the example of promoting “non-motorised alternatives” in the transportation sector and encouraging teleworking to reduce emissions.

Revisions of NDCs “present an opportunity to ensure that increase climate ambition is the core of people-centred economic recovery strategies,” agreed Masamichi Kono, Deputy Secretary-General of the OECD. Such strategies should be designed to reduce the likelihood of future shocks and increase the resilience of economies and societies to such shocks.

Governments face a moral obligation to “build back better,” he added. “The most vulnerable groups and communities will suffer the most – low-income households are more vulnerable to air pollution and climate change impacts.”

Introducing the webinar, WWF’s Global Climate & Energy Lead Manuel Pulgar-Vidal noted the timeliness of the discussion, as countries were beginning to submit revised NDCs, with Rwanda becoming the first African country to do so in May.

He said that the imperative for climate policy advocates is to persuade policymakers that climate action can help countries address the profound economic challenges caused by the pandemic by, for example, promoting policies that both address emissions and create employment.

That process of persuasion also needs to involve society more widely, said Buckle. “There needs to be a process of engagement with civil society [and] business to create the vision and the shared understanding of what is required,” he said. “That consultation and engagement process, when it’s done well, improves NDCs.”

“The message is clear,” said Pulgar-Vidal. “We have to embed NDCs into our recovery plans, but that isn’t going to be easy… We must be smart in linking the NDCs with people’s expectations” regarding jobs, housing and health.

“But we also need to define the long-term vision,” he added. “It is really important to have a clear narrative.”

Finally, he added, the NDC process is important to track countries’ progress in addressing emissions, noting that it provides a transparent means to assess ambition and hold countries to account. He gave the example of Japan, which faced criticism when it recently published a revised NDC which stuck to its earlier unambitious 2030 target. “At the Petersberg Dialogue, Japan announced that … it is planning to submit an enhanced NDC in 2021,” he said.

The webinar, which can be accessed here, was the first of a series of three that WWF and OECD are hosting on a green economy recovery. Subsequent webinars are to be held on the role of nature-based solutions (5 June) and using finance to promote a green recovery (12 June).
The first webinar in the OECD-WWF Green Recovery Dialogue series