World Resources Institute WRI

Designing National Commitments to Drive Measurable Emissions Reductions After 2020

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Courtesy of Courtesy of World Resources Institute WRI

In November 2013, Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) will meet in Warsaw, Poland to continue negotiations on the new international 2015 climate change agreement. A critical component of this new agreement will be the design of national mitigation commitments that outline countries’ emissions reductions after 2020. This is a complex process, involving a significant number of options and a wide range of additional factors Parties will weigh, especially related to the issue of equity. This working paper aims to shed light on how countries can most effectively design their commitments to be “measurable,” which is critical for enhancing transparency, accountability, comparability, domestic GHG management, and accurate tracking of global emissions reductions under the new agreement.


Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have recognized the need for global average temperature not to rise above 2°C compared with pre-industrial temperatures. In an effort to limit warming to this level, Parties to the Convention have adopted commitments and are now negotiating a new international agreement, to be adopted by 2015, for the post-2020 period. In November 2013, Parties will meet in Warsaw, Poland to continue negotiations on the 2015 agreement.

A central component of the new agreement will be national mitigation commitments undertaken by Parties after 2020, and a number of views have been submitted to the UNFCCC on this topic. While views are diverse, several have converged around the idea that mitigation commitments should be nationally determined, rather than negotiated, in order to encourage participation by all Parties and lead to greater overall reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

At the Warsaw negotiations, Parties will discuss the process for submitting, as well as the form of, mitigation commitments. This paper aims to inform these discussions by: (1) outlining and describing the “menu” of national mitigation commitment types that Parties could undertake; and (2) assessing each commitment type based on how it drives measurable emissions reductions. Measurable emissions reductions are emissions reductions that can be measured, reported, and verified (MRV) in a transparent, consistent, comparable, complete, and accurate manner.

The objective of this paper is to help inform Parties of the advantages and disadvantages of different commitment types from the perspective of measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of emissions and emissions reductions in order to facilitate the design of commitments that achieve measurable emissions reductions.

Key Findings

WRI’s analysis finds that all else being equal, countries should choose certain commitment types over others in order to maximize the measurability of their emissions reductions. Some important findings include:

On the scope of the commitment:

  • To maximize measureable emissions reductions, countries should embrace economy-wide goals. At the very least, countries that set an economy-wide goal for the pre-2020 period should also set one for post-2020. Parties with pre-2020 economy-wide goals include most major emitters, including all Annex I Parties as well as Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and South Korea, among others.
  • If a country sets a sectoral goal, it should target the highest-emitting sector and achieve meaningful emissions reductions in that sector.

On the type of goal:

  • Commitments framed as goals (either economy-wide or sectoral) should be framed as reductions from a base year or to a fixed level. For countries that need to accommodate short-term emissions increases (e.g., major emerging economies), base year or fixed level goals should still be adopted, even if they are framed as an increase in emissions from a base year (as opposed to a reduction from a base year).
  • Countries considering intensity or baseline scenario goals should adopt intensity goals given the variety of measurability challenges related to baseline scenario goals. Over the long term (e.g., from 2030 onward), Parties with relative goals should take on absolute goals that are framed as a reduction from a base year or a fixed level goal.

On the timeframe of the goal:

  • Parties with economy-wide and sectoral goal commitments should take on multi-year instead of single year goals.
  • If emissions growth is necessary for a short period, peak-and-decline pathways are preferable to single year goals because the overall emissions trajectory is made more transparent, and cumulative emissions can be more easily assessed. Peak-and-decline pathways should be designed to ensure that global emissions peak by 2020 and are reduced below 1990 levels by 2030 for a likely chance of limiting warming to 2°C.

On policies and projects:

  • Given the measurability challenges related to policies and projects, Parties should undertake efforts to: adopt standardized methods to attribute and report changes in emissions to individual policies and projects; assess and report leakage from policies and projects, where relevant; and adopt policies that facilitate long-term transformation, leading to significant emissions reductions in the most carbon-intensive sectors.

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