What does “on track” look like? A glimpse of the first year following the first Global Stocktake

Thea Uyguangco 

The whole point of the Global Stocktake is to look at our progress regarding our climate goals. The outcome of the Global Stocktake is our “report card” of how we’re doing collectively and to see if we’re “on track” to meeting the said goals. So, are we “on track”? 

Just 12 days shy from Christmas 2023, the COP 28 Presidency released the first Global Stocktake outcome. After much anticipation and anxiety, half a decade’s worth of taking inventory and tracking countries’ progress, boiled down to a 21-page text. Despite mixed reactions from parties and civil society alike, it is undeniable that the culmination of the first Global Stocktake is historic. We are finally faced with an assessment report of where we’re at in meeting the goals under the Paris Agreement. But the question is, was it only that? A piece of paper? Of course not. The success of the first Global Stocktake is heavily reliant on its implementation. And the following up on the GST 1 is crucial to its success. 

As a brief background, during COP 20, 195 countries came together to ratify the Paris Agreement. Under which, those parties agreed to set a goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5 Celsius. In that same agreement, it was agreed that parties are to take stock or take inventory of their progress in meeting nationally determined goals, collectively. This is the Global Stocktake or the GST, for short. The GST is a way of assessing the progress we are making, together. It also serves as a guide in informing countries on formulating their Nationally Determined Contributions which are due in 2025, the end of this critical decade. 

Where we’re at 

As the GST 1 Outcome would show, we are not doing so well. Despite making strides in reducing our emissions, there is still a significant need to increase ambition in our Nationally Determined Contributions. And we need to do it quick. 

This year, following the conclusion of the first GST, all eyes are on what we do next. During the 60th Sessions of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies’ in Bonn, Germany, negotiations on the contents on the UAE Dialogue in relation to the GST and enhancements on the GST Process commenced. You might ask, why are these important? First, figuring out the modalities of the UAE Dialogue, determines what items will be discussed in such Dialogue which is critical in following up the first GST. Second, negotiations on enhancing the GST Process are essential in ensuring that we do not repeat mistakes in the past and that the GST Process will be smoother and better.

During the almost two-week conference, “Informal Consultations” to discuss these agenda items were had. Co-facilitators would then publish “Informal Notes” periodically which would be the basis for negotiation and discussion during each Informal Consultation. During negotiations, some parties were quick to say that the GST is non-binding and non-punitive and it is just a guide to inform Nationally Determined Contributions for parties. This is true, however, some parties also echoed that while the GST is not binding, the implementation of the GST outcomes must be taken seriously and that this is a collective responsibility among all parties involved.  

By the end of the second week, many parties intervened that although they have many disagreements and discomforts in the final Informal Note published by the co-facilitators, they are happy with its current form and are ready to forward it to COP 29 for further negotiations. In UNFCCC Process standards, the negotiations during the SBs are considered a “success” by the mere fact that the parties were able to agree on an Informal Note. However, despite this “success” we are not moving fast enough. It is worth noting though, that progress is still progress. And we can jump off from that. 

Looking forward 

It seems like every year, we break records for temperature increase. Global temperature has warmed to at least 1.1C already as of last year. This is just .4 C shy from our cap under the Paris Agreement. This is cause for significant concern and we ought to call for a sense of urgency within our governments. This was highlighted during the Annual Global GST Dialogue during the SBs. The main point of discussion of the global dialogue was that of the Nationally Determined Contributions or “NDCs.” 

Under the Paris Agreement, each country-party is required to prepare “Nationally Determined Contributions” which are mitigation efforts that each country must strive to achieve. These “NDCs” are submitted to the UNFCCC Secretariat every five years—the next one being due in 2025, post-pandemic. These are due and required to be submitted every five years to increase ambition over time and each NDC will reflect the progression of the country’s ambition. 

Over the course of the SBs, at almost every side event, every NDC-related mandated event, and sometimes during negotiations, it was reiterated that “we must scale up our ambition.” With record-breaking temperatures last year and following the outcome of the first GST, the next round of NDCs is encouraged to be very ambitious to meet our goals under the Paris Agreement. During the Annual Global GST Dialogue held, some countries, even those from developing countries shared their plans and ambitions for their NDCs. The Philippines, for one, said that their ambition is to reduce 75% of their emissions by 2030 and shifting more towards renewable energy use. 

Other countries such as India, China, the United States of America also shared their countries’ plans on reduction of emissions. It is well worth noting that these countries’ ambition plans are the most important in the room, and the most anticipated. In World Resources Institute study in 2023, at least 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from the USA, China, and India alone. 

Although the NDCs are domestic, not one county is fighting climate change alone. This is a shared and collective responsibility. We must remember however, that developed countries must take the lead in reducing their emissions. And it is imperative that the top emitters reduce their emissions drastically for us to save the world. When the USA, China, and India shared their plans during the global dialogue, it was ambitious. It did show that perhaps, there is hope yet. What are these plans if there is no action? 

Final thoughts 

For the GST, we already have working Informal Notes for further negotiations in Baku during COP 29 later this year. We might have to owe its “success” to the non-controversial subject matter, or perhaps the efficiency of the co-facilitators, or maybe the coordination and collaboration amongst parties. Regardless, we can only hope that once COP 29 rolls around, we’d see as much success on the negotiation front as we do on the ground and in the real world. As the decisions made in COP 29 might as well spell out our future. 

It is dystopic to see our fate resting on the hands of a couple of people in a room. All these words, all these presentations, and all these speeches telling us that “we have to scale up ambition!” “We have to reduce our emissions!” “We do not have time!” It feels like the same words are repeated over and over and we’re doomed to an infinite loop of negotiations, discussions, speeches, and business as the bottom line. It is disappointing to admit and difficult to swallow, but this is the lesser evil moving forward. 

Again, the question is, are we “on track”? If we keep things the way that it is, without proper implementation and follow up on the GST outcome, and without following through with our NDCs, we are not on track. But, if a sense of urgency and responsibility is instilled in our governments and with the guidance of the first GST, implementation of our goals should be possible. We are given all the tools to save the planet. The more important question is, will we use them? 

Atty. Ericka Therese P. Uyguangco is a Policy and Legal Research Associate of the Klima Center of the Manila Observatory and an associate of La Viña Zarate & Associates (LVZ Law). She follows the UNFCCC Work streams of the Mitigation Work Programme and the Global Stocktake. She is currently based in Cagayan de Oro City as Head lawyer of LVZ Law’s satellite office in Mindanao.

This is part of Klima Center’s SB 60 thought-leadership series on the climate change workstreams of Global Stocktake, Mitigation, Loss and Damage, Just Transition, and Action for Climate Empowerment.