The Season for Climate Action: Paris Agreement and City of San Diego Climate Action Plan

The Draft Decision -/CP.21 known as the “Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” was adopted by consensus of 195 countries on December 12, 2015 at COP21 and includes the Paris Agreement an Annex to the Decision. This post discusses some of the main provisions relating to GHG reductions only, as these are closely related to energy policy.

The Paris Agreement has a preamble followed by 29 articles and will be open for signature from April 22, 2016 to April 21, 2017. It will come into force after at least 55 Parties accounting for at least an estimated 55% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have ratified or otherwise accepted the treaty. “Total global greenhouse gas emissions” means the most up-to-date reduction amounts communicated by the Parties by the time of adoption of the Paris Agreement (i.e., December 11, 2015). This means the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) submitted, where INDCs represent the “intended” actions for most parties, not actual implemented actions, as discussed in a previous post. As explained there, initial analysis of the INDCs submitted by October 1, 2015 indicated there is still a large gap to reach the range where we need to be to reduce warming to within 2 degrees Celsius (2˚C) by the end of the century. With the impacts of the INDCs through October 1, 2015, we are on track to reach about 2.7˚C increase by end of the century.

While the Paris Agreement is an unprecedented consensus text for the Paris Agreement, as expressed in Section II, subsection17 of this same Decision, the COP:

“[n]otes with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2˚C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030, and also notes that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required than those associated with the intended nationally determined contributions in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes…”

The unprecedented consensus of 195 countries implies that there is room for improvement and INDCs could become more rigorous nationally determined contributions when they are communicated by the parties every 5 years as determined by Decision 1/CP.21.

Of all the possible [square bracket] options for the objective discussed in the final negotiation text, the objective that was agreed upon in the adopted Paris Agreement (Article 2) is to hold the global average temperature to within 2˚C and pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5 above pre-industrial levels, (as a 2˚C increase is still expected to have significant consequences especially for low lying areas) to increase the ability to adapt, and to make financial flows consistent with low GHG development based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibility (CBDR).

In order to achieve the objective, Article 4 states that Parties will “aim to reach global peaking of GHG” “as soon as possible” so as to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks in the second half of this century.” Although there are no numerical targets, or specific target years, achieving a balance indicates a net zero carbon approach. The enhancement of sinks is discussed in Article 5, where management and enhancement of forests in developing countries is to be incentivized. Article 6 with 9 subsections takes up 7 subsections providing a role for voluntary but not-named-as-such carbon offsets referred to as “the use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes.” A mechanism is established for this, which is worded similar to the mechanism for the Clean Development Mechanism under the previous Kyoto Protocol.

Two subsections of Article 6 refer to “the importance of integrated, holistic and balance non-market approaches” being available in a coordinated and effective manner. To put this Article 6 into a more familiar context, the latter non-market approaches would be similar to the regulatory (non-market) approaches implemented in the US INDC submission and in the implementing regulations under AB32 in California. The US INDC does not depend on the use of international market mechanisms to achieve its targets, and explicitly states that it does not currently use international market mechanisms, including offsets. California has a small role for market mechanisms and carbon offsets permitted under AB32 under a strict eligibility and compliance regime can only be up to 8% of all reductions by companies subject to California’s cap and trade program. An example of an eligible certified carbon offset project in California is the Willits Woods project, the first approved forestry project covering about 19,000 acres in northern California with about 1.2 million metric tons carbon sequestered (carbon offsets) available to companies and managed for at least 100 years with a plan for wildlife habitat and watershed benefits.

Articles 13-15 of the Paris Agreement come closest to a monitoring and compliance mechanism couched in other words as an “enhanced transparency mechanism” which is to be non-punitive and non-intrusive, respecting sovereignty. It requires all parties to submit national inventories every two years, provide information needed to track progress and be open to international assessment and technical review, international consultation and analysis under procedures to be developed by the COP. COP will also monitor implementation of the Paris Agreement by what’s known as a “global stocktake” (analogous to an inventory) in 2023 and every 5 years thereafter.

Role of States and Cities

While only states can be parties to the Agreement, section 118 of the Decision itself “ [w]elcomes the efforts of non-Party stakeholders to scale up their climate actions, and encourages the registration of those actions in the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action platform.” Based on analyses of 172 major companies, subnational states, regions and cities by September 2015, the Climate Group showed that these subnational entities are pushing at the frontiers of low carbon growth. For example, 85 cities had targets of 80-100% GHG reduction in their communities by 2020 through 2050 (Table 1 examples out of 85 cities). And 12 cities had a goal of 100% renewable power (Table 2).

Table 1: Cities’ Greenhouse Gas Targets (Adapted from Climate Group Analysis)


On December 15, 2015, the City of San Diego with a population of 1.3 million became another city with a target of 100% renewable power by 2035 when its City Council unanimously adopted its Climate Action Plan. In doing this, it joins the known 12 cities which have similar ambitions in their CAPs (Table 2)

CAP titleUntitled

Table 4: Cities with 100% Renewable Power Goals (adapted from Climate Group Analysis)


About Dr. Nilmini Silva-Send

Dr. Nilmini Silva-Send is EPIC’s Assistant Director, Adjunct Professor, and the C. Hugh Friedman Fellow in Energy Law and Policy. She leads the regional and local climate change projects and has extensive policy and technical knowledge about energy and GHG mitigation methods and measures. She has participated in several international energy policy dialogues, including in Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Dr. Silva-Send has been a co-Principal Investigator in a recent multidisciplinary National Science Foundation funded climate education project in which she worked with climate scientists, social psychologists and communication specialists to develop more effective methods to communicate links between climate science, energy use and society. During her career Dr. Silva-Send has conducted legal and technical analysis of environmental laws in Europe and the U.S., and carried out environmental due diligence assessments in Europe. She has also taught upper level and graduate level international law courses in Germany and since 2004 at the University of San Diego School of Law, where from 2009 she developed and teaches a contemporary course in International Energy Law. Dr. Silva-Send has a B.S. in Chemistry and a PhD in International Law and Policy. She is a member of the International Bar Association.
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