Why is climate negotiation so difficult? This thought passed through my head repeatedly, today, as I contemplated the efforts of 250 diplomats to agree common time frames for NDCs. Let me explain what (I think) that means and then I’ll come back to my puzzlement over how hard it is.

The UK’s Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) is that we will reduce our economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% (compared to 1990 levels) by 2030. This is a 10-year plan, i.e. it covers the years 2021-2030 inclusive. But many nations argue that we need 5 year plans. It’s also worth mentioning that every plan I’ve seen has a different baseline year (Russia’s compares to 2010, Argentina’s to 2007 and so on) and there’s also no technical reason why 10-year plans can’t run, say, from 2026-2035. NDCs could, in principle, all have different starting dates, different durations and different baselines but it obviously makes more sense for everyone to do things the same way. Then we can compare like with like and can monitor every country’s progress in the same way.

No-one disagrees with this. Not one delegation at today’s meeting said anything other than that common time frames are a good idea and that we should agree them prior to COP26 in November. I can’t even believe it matters very much to anyone politically. The Chinese government won’t fall if it agrees to 7 year plans and Boris Johnson won’t be thrown out of office for deciding that UK emissions should be compared every 13 years to what they were in the tax-year 2003-04. Even more surprisingly, every NDC I’ve actually looked at is, in fact, a 10 year plan.

So what’s the problem? Why have thousands of diplomat-years been spent, since the Paris agreement 6 years ago, trying unsuccessfully to agree a common way to do NDCs? I’m obviously missing something. Perhaps it’s just as well I’m not a diplomat!

Dave Waltham