Climate 411

COP 25: Carbon markets in the spotlight

Staff and volunteers welcomed at COP 25 in Madrid.
UNclimatechange via Flickr

International cooperation on carbon markets, covered in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, is at the top of the agenda for the COP 25 climate talks in Madrid this week. Since leaving the Article 6 section of the Paris Agreement without agreement at COP 24, negotiators have continued to work over the past year to garner support for a deal, before countries shift focus to preparing their critical next round of NDC pledges, due next year.

They will do this against a backdrop of political disruption, but continued determination to finalize the Paris Agreement’s operating instructions, known in the UN as the “rulebook”.

Civil unrest in Chile led that country’s president to take the unprecedented step of canceling the climate conference only five weeks before its scheduled start. Spain quickly stepped in the next day to offer to organize the negotiations, known as COP 25, in Madrid. The United States earlier this month officially began the process to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. All this is happening while the increasing impacts of climate change are being felt around the world; fires have ravaged Australia and California, while historic flooding is drowning Venice and dangerous pollution is choking Indian cities. And a new World Meteorological Organization report confirms that the atmospheric concentration of three key greenhouse gases – methane, CO2, and nitrous oxide – continues to rise.

Although the ultimate success of the Paris Agreement will be judged many years from now, how the rules on international carbon markets are decided in Madrid could make or break the ambition of the Paris Agreement.

That’s because international carbon market cooperation underpinned by strong accounting and transparency rules can help drive emissions down significantly: research shows that well-designed carbon markets could nearly double the ambition of current national climate pledges, at no extra cost.

However, weak rules for carbon trading between countries could fundamentally undermine the Paris Agreement. By allowing countries and the private sector to “count” carbon credits that don’t represent real emissions reductions, a bad set of rules on Article 6 could negate the climate ambition of current climate pledges.

What is a good Article 6 agreement?

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What You Need to Know About Article 6 of the Paris Agreement

This post was coauthored by Kelley Kizzier from EDF, Kelly Levin from World Resources Institute, and Mandy Rambharos, Article 6 negotiator, South Africa. It originally appeared on WRI’s blog

As delegates arrive in Madrid for the UN Climate Change Conference (COP25) this week, one issue is top-of-mind: finalizing the rules on how countries can reduce their emissions using international carbon markets, covered under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Article 6 is one of the least accessible and complex concepts of the global accord. This complexity was a major reason that Article 6 was not agreed to until the last morning of the Paris negotiations in 2015 and was left unresolved at the Katowice climate talks last year. Getting these rules right is critical for fighting climate change: depending on how they are structured, Article 6 could help the world avoid dangerous levels of global warming or let countries off the hook from making meaningful emissions cuts. The integrity of the Paris Agreement and countries’ climate commitments hang in the balance.

Here’s what you should know:

How do international carbon markets work?
International carbon markets work like this: Countries that struggle to meet their emissions-reduction targets under their national climate plans (known as “nationally determined contributions,” or NDCs), or want to pursue less expensive emissions cuts, can purchase emissions reductions from other nations that have already cut their emissions more than the amount they had pledged, such as by transitioning to renewable energy. If the rules are structured appropriately, the result can be a win-win for everyone involved — both countries meet their climate commitments, the overachiever is financially rewarded for going above and beyond, finance is provided to the country generating the emissions reductions, and the world gets a step closer to avoiding catastrophic climate change.

What does the Paris Agreement say about carbon markets?
Article 6 has three operative paragraphs, two of which relate to carbon markets:

  • Article 6.2 provides an accounting framework for international cooperation, such as linking the emissions-trading schemes of two or more countries (for example, linking the European Union cap-and-trade program with emissions-reduction transfers from Switzerland). It also allows for the international transfer of carbon credits between countries.
  • Article 6.4 establishes a central UN mechanism to trade credits from emissions reductions generated through specific projects. For example, country A could pay for country B to build a wind farm instead of a coal plant. Emissions are reduced, country B benefits from the clean energy and country A gets credit for the reductions.
  • Article 6.8 establishes a work program for non-market approaches, such as applying taxes to discourage emissions. For this explainer, we will focus on the carbon markets elements of Article 6.

While Article 6 established these concepts in broad strokes and countries achieved some progress on defining the rules over the years, their final shape remains yet to be agreed. Finalizing these rules is a key agenda item for COP25.

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