Increasing Mitigation Ambition: Establishing "Mitigation Reference Points" to Trigger Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reductions

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION  II. REFERENCE POINTS IN FISHERIES REGIMES  III. LESSONS LEARNED FROM IMPLEMENTATION OF PRECAUTIONARY REFERENCE POINTS  IV. MITIGATION REFERENCE POINTS IN THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONTEXT     A. Mitigation Reference Points       1. Atmospheric GHG Concentrations       2. Sea Level Rise       3. Natural Impacts       4. Human Actions and Inactions     B. Positive Feedback Mechanisms       1. Sea Level Rise and Melting Ice       2. Permafrost Thaw       3. Forest Loss  V. PREDETERMINED ACTION WHEN MITIGATION REFERENCE POINTS ARE REACHED  VI. CONCLUSION 


As part of the Cancun Agreements (1) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), (2) States pledged to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by certain percentages or take other action to limit their GHG emissions. (3) However, at the 2011 climate change negotiations in Durban, the Parties acknowledged the "significant gap" between their pledges to reduce GHG emissions by 2020 and the goal of limiting global average temperature below 2[degrees]C or 1.5[degrees]C above pre-industrial levels. (4) The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) concluded that, in 2020, the current mitigation pledges included in the Cancun Agreements will be eight to twelve GtC[O.sub.2]e short (5) of limiting average global temperature increases to 2[degrees]C above preindustrial levels--the stated goal of the climate regime. (6)

To bridge this gap, UNFCCC Parties must raise their level of ambition and make additional mitigation commitments before any new agreement under the Durban Platform comes into effect in 2020. (7) Yet, they have struggled to do so. (8) As the clock ticks toward 2015, when UNFCCC Parties have agreed to conclude new pledges to mitigate climate change that would take effect in 2020, (9) the Parties have made little progress. (10) Moreover, they have made no progress on increasing ambition before 2020, although they have established a program of work for doing so. (11)

One strategy for increasing ambition before 2020 is to adopt "mitigation reference points" that would trigger automatic pre-determined mitigation action by the Parties. (12) These reference points could include, for example, atmospheric GHG concentrations reaching a specific threshold, global average temperatures rising to a specified level, ice sheets melting at a particular rate, and sea level rising to a certain point. When a reference point is reached or exceeded, automatic action, such as increasing commitments by an equal or prorated amount, would be required. As discussed in Sections II and III, the strategy is modeled on the precautionary reference points that have been established by the U.N. Fish Stocks Agreement, (13) which has embraced them to avoid overfishing. Sections IV and V describe how "mitigation reference points" could be developed to increase ambition within the climate change regime.


The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 57% of marine fish stocks were fully exploited in 2009 and 30% were overexploited, (14) conditions that have significantly worsened since 1974. (15) To halt the continued overexploitation of marine fish stocks, the Fish Stocks Agreement grants coastal states, among other things, new enforcement and inspection powers. (16) In addition, it requires states to "apply the precautionary approach widely to conservation, management and exploitation of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks." (17) To implement the precautionary approach, the Fish Stocks Agreement directs states to "implement[] improved techniques for dealing with risk and uncertainty" (18) and to "be more cautious when information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate." (19)

To address risk and uncertainty more effectively and to act more cautiously, the Fish Stocks Agreement mandates that states adopt "precautionary reference points. …