As countries gather here in Bonn, Germany to begin the work of translating the historic Paris Agreement into action, there is widespread recognition that individual countries’ carbon-cutting pledges must be strengthened in the coming years to deliver the ambitious long term goal agreed in Paris: keep warming “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and achieve global net zero emissions before 2100.
The Paris Agreement provides several market- and transparency-related tools that can help spur the international cooperation necessary to achieve its long term goal, including provisions that facilitate high-integrity, “bottom-up” linkages of domestic carbon markets to cut carbon pollution. These linkages (described in Article 6 of the Paris Agreement as “cooperative approaches”) promise to reduce costs, and unlock the finance needed to drive deeper global emissions reductions. The agreement on cooperative approaches in Paris reflects the widespread recognition among nations that carbon markets, accompanied by a clear, comprehensive transparency framework, will help drive the deep emissions reductions needed to prevent the most severe impacts of climate change.
With the urgency of climate action clear, the key challenge now becomes: how can we accelerate the international cooperation needed to solve the Paris equation?
One concrete step, drawing on the cooperative approaches provisions of the Paris Agreement, would be to establish a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions to catalyze the development and increase the ambition of domestic carbon markets. Much as the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) helped broaden participation and ambition in trade, a voluntary coalition of carbon market jurisdictions (CCM) could expand the scope and maximize the cost-effectiveness of ambitious climate action around the globe.
Why coordinate on carbon markets?
As carbon markets continue to expand, coordination among jurisdictions using or considering carbon markets – especially on the rules and standards needed to ensure environmental integrity and maximize cost-effectiveness – will give governments and the private sector the confidence to go faster and farther in reducing their climate-warming pollution.
A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.
Although the Paris Agreement provides a framework for international cooperation on carbon markets, it is ultimately up to countries to work together to agree the detailed rules necessary for international carbon markets to drive emissions down and investment up.
The good news is that groups of countries can make substantial, early progress, ultimately informing and complementing the longer-term UNFCCC process.
“Minilateral” efforts can stimulate faster, deeper emissions cuts and strengthen international cooperation
Rapid and early emissions cuts are the single most important determinant of whether the global community is likely to meet the Paris Agreement’s goal to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). And delaying necessary action to reduce global warming pollution dramatically increases costs to the global economy.
For both the climate and our economies, not all emissions reductions are the same: the earlier, the better.
That’s why it is so important that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement affirmed that cooperative emissions trading between countries can continue and expand while multilateral accounting guidelines are developed. Transactions will need to be “consistent with” any multilateral guidance developed by Parties to the Paris Agreement over the coming years – particularly to ensure that the same emission reductions are not claimed toward more than one mitigation pledge (“double counted”).
A “minilateral” coalition of carbon markets could complement efforts under the UNFCCC by fostering agreement on detailed standards for the accounting, transparency, and environmental integrity of internationally transferred emissions units. These “nuts and bolts” standards, which will help avoid errors in tallying up total emissions and traded units, form the bedrock of high-integrity emissions trading. Early agreement would give countries the confidence to move forward quickly in implementing their Paris pledges and a basis for increasing their ambition over time.
Practically speaking, future UNFCCC guidance on cooperative approaches will likely be influenced by working examples of international emissions trading, making the success of a carbon markets coalition an important precedent for broader cooperation on markets in the UNFCCC. This process could mirror recent progress on standards for reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+), where technical advances made by countries in the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility contributed to greater progress in the UNFCCC.
In Paris, a diverse group of 18 developed and developing countries led by New Zealand announced that they will work quickly together to develop standards and guidelines to ensure the environmental integrity of international market mechanisms.
This group – or another similar coalition – could “set the bar” for market-based climate action by developing robust accounting and transparency standards for environmental and market integrity. Coordinated leadership by forward-looking jurisdictions would help ensure that the growth of international emissions trading is accompanied by enhanced ambition and real, permanent, additional, and verifiable emissions reductions.
Over a longer period, these same guidelines could support the establishment of a common trading framework among a coalition of carbon market jurisdictions. A framework might include mutual recognition of emission units, harmonized approaches to verifying emissions reductions and generating offset credits, and a shared trading infrastructure, which together could ensure environmental integrity and encourage more countries, states, and provinces to cap and price carbon.
Paris began a new, more ambitious chapter in the history of climate action, but much of the chapter is yet to be written. We’re in the race of our lives to finish the work of protecting future generations and building prosperous low-carbon economies. A coalition of carbon markets can help deliver on the promise of the Paris Agreement and catalyze the deep global emissions reductions that climate science demands.