by Vanessa Brown
Although the Trump Administration has pledged that the United States will exit the Paris Agreement, the formal withdrawal process will not be complete until November 4, 2020–the day after the election. Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has pledged to recommit the U.S. to the Paris Agreement if he wins on November 3rd. Although the US is technically still a party to the Paris Agreement, no one expects that it will submit a new NDC on target because its withdrawal from the Agreement in November will extinguish its previously submitted NDC. Furthermore, this year’s COP26 meeting has been postponed due to COVID-19 and has been rescheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland in November 2021. This delay has given governments a grace period in submitting their second-round NDCs. Presently, only 13 countries have submitted new NDCs this year, and another 33 have stated their intention to do so.
Articles 2 and 4.1 of the Paris Agreement specify that its goals to limit the rise in average global temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C will be achieved over time. In order to enhance this long term ambition, the Agreement provides that successive nationally determined contributions, or “NDCs”, will be used to measure progress. Revised NDCs are set in comparison to the previous NDCs and reflect a state’s highest possible ambition, including targets, measures and policies that are the basis for national climate action plans. They are submitted every five years to the UNFCCC secretariat. Patricia Espinosa presently serves as the convention’s executive. Initial or intended NDCs (INDCs) were submitted in 2015 and 2020 was the deadline for the submission of the first revised NDCs.
If and when the US returns to the Paris Agreement, it will need to communicate a new INDC, and, although technically a fresh start, the international community will be evaluating its ambition based on its 2015 INDC. If Biden wins the election, some such as Susan Biniaz, former Deputy Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State and lead climate negotiator from 1989-2017, are calling for the US to immediately submit a provisional/placeholder NDC or to delay its submission bolstered by announcing other climate-related actions and initiatives. Whatever the tactic, climate lawyers and policymakers should keep in focus last year’s BlueCOP negotiations, which conveyed the close links between the health of the climate and the health of the ocean, as well as keep a close eye on the Ocean Climate Action Plan or “Blue New Deal” presently under development at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, as it will provide the template for some of the first ocean climate legislation and policy actions in history, beginning in 2021. Unlike Biden’s Green New Deal, which promotes small nuclear reactors, the Blue New Deal is silent on nuclear development. Nuclear experts Gregory Jaczko, former Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Arjun Makhijani of IEER, should be watched for comments.