Interview: Paris Agreement will be signed in New York

The Paris climate conference in December 2015 marked major progress towards a climate-neutral world, with countries agreeing to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius. Expectations of the Agreement’s implementation were, therefore, high – and remain high. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is hosting a high-level signing ceremony in New York on April 22 to coincide with ‘Earth Day’, the international day of action to protect the environment. In the run-up to this event, the International Climate Initiative (IKI) public relations team asked selected experts to share their expectations regarding the forthcoming implementation of the Paris Agreement.

IKI: Where do we stand, four months after the Paris Agreement on climate change was passed?

Allison Towle, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): Allison Towle I think globally we are on track given the breadth of the work ahead. Paris was momentous and ambitious. We all came away from Paris with high expectations. Now, we need to step back assess where we are, where we are going, and develop concrete actions to reach our targets. These next steps are relevant for the countries and the governments, but also for think tanks, NGOs and the actors that are supporting NDC implementation. We are working to identify how we can support governments, applying the knowledge we have and working to build upon strengths that are already present.

Yamil Bonduki, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP): Yamil Bonduki I very much agree with my colleague as I feel that the process to ratify the Paris Agreement has caught the attention of the governments. Because now, the agreed commitments from Paris need to move to the national level and the national governments need to start with the implementation. Therefore, the process is becoming more and more real. The signing ceremony of the Agreement in New York will be a landmark in terms of sending out positive messages to the governments. And at the same time, the governments can demonstrate their commitment to the Paris Agreement. For me, this is a very interesting period in which countries are looking at a step-wise approach in terms of what is going to happen in the near future.

Chris Dodwell, Ricardo Energy & Environment:Chris Dodwell I think the momentum has been sustained. The Paris bounce is still in effect and we are seeing a lot of interest from both policy makers and the private sector across the world in what they will do next. Some evidence of that includes the following: we held a workshop during COP21 in Paris about implementing the Agreement and that was really well attended; and we also organized a webinar in January with 500 registered participants from across the world. So clearly, the Paris Agreement is a topic that is still very high on policy makers’ minds. The next step is how countries actually implement their commitments which will be much harder than pledging to take action. We need to put all the best brains together to identify best practice and how to apply that experience. Lessons learned in Europe and the UK include how to ensure stakeholder engagement includes giving voice to new entrepreneurs and new technologies; how to send clear political signals that action on climate change is serious; how to you use public money smartly to attract private capital to invest in global low carbon transformation; how to coordinate between the many and diverse different actors involved –not just in the country but between those assisting them, because there is a risk that initiatives may overlap or others may be left out. There are a lot of issues we have to crack through, but I think that Paris will help get the ball rolling. In general, my experience is that some governments are hesitating to move forward on implementation because they are not certain on how to kick off the process. Developed countries need to be able to respond to that. They have to show that they have their act together, that they have their own plans in place and that they are taking Paris implementation seriously as well. There are two levels on which developed countries should take leadership - by supporting the actions in the countries and by taking actions themselves.

Inga Zachow, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ): My impression – comparing before Paris to after Paris – is that while some countries have kept up the momentum, many of those with which we cooperate have adopted a wait-and-see approach. The Paris talks left many issues unresolved, and some governments and individual government departments are having to reposition themselves and work out what Paris actually means for their country, the areas in which they need to do more work, and where their priorities should be. A few countries have already held initial workshops: some of these have been a sort of wrap-up from the Paris talks, but in most cases the workshops focused on looking forward, drawing up roadmaps and strategies, and deciding on specific future steps. There is, though, substantial variation between countries.

Merlyn Van Voore, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP): Merlyn Van Voore I think 100 days after Paris, we are in a place where the euphoria has settled, understandably, because many countries now realize that they need to get serious about implementation. I say that because we at UNEP have been involved in supporting some countries with their post-COP 21 de-briefing sessions. The fact that governments have asked for that support, driven by the need to have a conversation on what Paris achieved and what it now means, tells you that governments are serious about wanting to understand the next steps for implementation. The good news is that most countries are still committed to the fact that this is a universal agreement and that it is not going to away. We are all in this together, and the agreement is going to stay.

Frauke Röser, NewClimate Institute:
Frauke Röser I am very concerned about this issue, and I think the international community shares this concern. An enormous amount has been achieved over the past 12 months in laying the groundwork for the INDCs and in bringing the whole process to a successful conclusion in Paris, but I now have the feeling that the process is now beginning to lose momentum. For me, therefore, one of the major challenges is to keep up the momentum generated in Paris and to ensure that individual countries actually take the concrete action needed to implement the Paris Agreement.

IKI: Some of what you have said suggests that action is needed to sustain the momentum achieved in Paris. If so, what do we need to do? And who needs to act?

Yamil Bonduki, UNDP:Yamil Bonduki In terms of new impulses, the signature processes of the Paris Agreement on the national level will have a positive impact. Discussions on Congress or Parliament level will help to gain the necessary support that is needed for the implementation phase. At the same time, continued discussions between stakeholders will contribute to develop this long-term vision from Paris into concrete actions to hopefully create large impact on GHG reduction and on adaptation as this is also part of the Agreement in a meaningful way.

Merlyn Van Voore, UNEP:Merlyn Van Voore One very important impulse for me comes out of the various dialogue sessions we have convened. Sharing knowledge and experiences and discussing new ideas and strategies has a positive impact on countries. Governments are telling us that they need to understand what it means now to work with non-state actors, with mayors, with communities, and NGOs, because that was a strong focus in Paris, and governments want to continue with that. For me, this is a very positive signal. As my colleagues have already mentioned, the signing ceremony in New York on the 22nd of April can contribute towards maintaining the momentum, because this event is going to give an indication of which countries are willing to act on the Paris Agreement and which countries will eventually ratify the Agreement when it enters into force. Last but not least, I see a sense of realism after the Paris Conference. Realism meaning that countries recognize the need for more funding and support, more human resources to implement the actions and policies identified in the pledges made in Paris More countries are realizing, that they now have this agreement and that with cooperation and support, they can move towards implementation.

Frauke Röser, NewClimate Institute:Frauke Röser I think that will vary widely from country to country. Some countries have already pressed ahead and immersed themselves in planning their implementation of the Paris Agreement. In Chile, to take one example, work is going ahead with the Ministry of Finance on developing specific investment strategies. Other countries, though, are just beginning to put structures in place and deciding how they should proceed and what the next steps are. And then there is a group of countries that seem to have lost their way a bit in the process and have yet to devise any strategies for what they should and can do to put the Agreement into practice. I think the most important thing we can do now is to provide external advice and support to encourage them. I also hope that the signing ceremony in New York in April will push the whole issue back higher up on the political agenda and prod some countries back into action. I think there is an urgent need for the international community to continue providing impetus. And I think that all of us who work in this area need to continue to build on the preparatory work we have already done, to continue developing the range of processes – NAMAs, Low Carbon Development strategies, energy strategies, cooperation arrangements and projects in key sectors – and to learn from each other.

Inga Zachow, GIZ: Alongside the signing ceremony in April, I think the next round of intermediate talks in May will be crucial in telling us how the signatory countries are ‘reading’ the Paris Agreement, whether there is a shared understanding of what it means, and which countries are adopting which priorities and getting on with the work. This round of talks will also promote the intensive sharing of experience that has taken place over the last few years and facilitate peer exchange between countries willing to draw inspiration and learn from each other about differing approaches and find a shared way forward.

Chris Dodwell, Ricardo Energy & Environment:Chris Dodwell I think the real challenge is to overcome the sense that implementation of Paris is going to be new and complicated. We should make people realize that it is ‘do-able’: this isn’t rocket science and there is plenty of experience out there on which to build. Countries will need to think about how to apply that experience in their own national context. For me, that is a key element. We as international community should try to make implementation straightforward, to break down the overall challenge into a manageable framework, and then tailor that to the national requirement. Most countries already have development plans and national approaches to policy implementation which work effectively in other contexts: they now need to apply those to this challenge and seek to integrate implementation of the Paris Agreement into their policy work. Another challenge, at least from my perspective, is that most of the countries have not yet committed resources to post-Paris implementation. Which leaves us in a little bit of a gap, which may allow the momentum built in Paris to diminish. In summary, I think that countries should focus on developing a clear vision for their implementation action plan. This will include finalizing their NDC and demonstrating with confidence that they can deliver it. Alongside this, it will be necessary to deliver the action on the ground. They will need to answer questions such as: how can we identify early quick wins, what are some priority actions that they can take to donors, and last but not least, how can early progress be achieved so that Environment Ministers can demonstrate that Paris has delivered positive outcomes for their respective country. This needs to happen alongside the start of longer term planning processes so that by COP 22 in Morocco, governments will be able to present their five-year-implementation plans and make specific requests ask for financial support and resources.