What is the ratchet mechanism? Paris Climate Agreement concept explained ahead of COP26

COP26 will see prominent world leaders pitching their environmental plan for the future as part of the Paris Climate Agreement’s ‘ratchet mechanism’, but what exactly does it mean?

With COP26 shortly on the horizon, hope is resting on the shoulders of world leaders to deliver a plan to help save the planet.

World leaders such as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, US President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron are expected to set out their updated plans to reduce emissions across the world at the conference in Glasgow which begins on Sunday (31 October).

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The conference comes after 200 countries joined together in adopting the legally-binding Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, which set out to reduce carbon emissions to slow down global warming.

As part of the agreement, countries are expected to take part in a ‘ratchet mechanism’.

But what exactly is it, how will it help to achieve the aims of the agreement and why will it be so prominent at COP26?

Laurent Fabius, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon and former French President Francois Hollande following the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. (Credit: Getty)

What is a ‘ratchet mechanism’?

A ‘ratchet mechanism’ is an informal term used to describe the requirement that countries will revise and communicate their emission targets - known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs) - every five years as part of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The term comes from the idea that amendments to plans and promises to tackle climate change will increase in a progressive manner at every review. This means that countries will be expected to promise more action every five years in an effort to reduce global warming and the effects of climate change.

The requirement to revise and communicate their new plans every five years is set out in Article Four of the Agreement and was acknowledged by all parties who signed the legally-binding document.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the lunch of the COP26 UN Climate Summit. (Credit: Getty)

Why are countries revising their environmental plans?

Upon the creation of the Paris Climate Agreement, it was expected that the aims and targets set out by countries would need to be adapted as time progressed.

This is due to the ever-evolving nature of climate change and its effect on factors such as global warming and rising sea levels, with the acknowledgement that the 2015 plans would not be enough to curb this alone.

How will the ‘ratchet mechanism’ feature at COP26 and what will happen at the conference?

COP26, which will begin on 31 October 2021, was postponed from 2020 due to Covid. This would have provided countries with the first requirement to communicate their updated plan, but world leaders will now have the opportunity to reveal their promises one year later.

Countries must provide their updated NDCs to tackle climate change at COP26 in line with the terms of the Paris Climate Agreement.

During the conference, world leaders will detail their new emissions targets for the first time since signing the agreement.

As the result of being the first time that updated plans have been revealed, COP26 will be the first so-called “crank” in the ‘ratchet mechanism’, leading many to label the conference as a crucial turning point in the fight against climate change.

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