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International climate change policy in 2020

Updated: Nov 25, 2020

Policy Pulse - George Anjaparidze - 21 January 2020

Global 2019 surface temperatures were second warmest on record. Only 2016 was hotter, according to estimates from NASA and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration. The planet continues to be on a warming trend. The past five years have been the warmest of the last 140. While we don’t know if 2020 will break new temperature records, we can say with certainty that current policy action falls short of what science tell us is needed to limit the rise of average global temperatures to within 1.5°C to 2°C. A temperature increase above this range is considered to have catastrophic consequences.

The December 2019 UN Conference in Madrid failed to deliver clear rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. Climate negotiations in 2020 will culminate with the annual UN climate conference being held from 9 – 20 November in Glasgow. To get the Paris climate agreement back on track, the Glasgow conference needs to make progress across three key policy areas:

  1. All governments need to agree on clear rules for international cooperation on mitigating climate change – known as Article 6 negotiations. These rules are a prerequisite for properly functioning international carbon trading.

  2. All governments need to scale-up the level of their nationally determined contributions to climate action. The current emission trajectory sets the world on about a 3°C warming, well short of the collective ambition of the Paris Agreement.

  3. Developed countries need to drastically scale-up their financial support to enable more climate action on mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.

The most urgent climate policy priority is to have clear rules on international cooperation for mitigating climate change. But in absence of greater leadership, success in reaching agreement on these rules is unlikely. However, a positive outcome can be secured if financial resources are made available to address unresolved issues in the negotiations (for example, through buy back schemes for some of the Certified Emission Reductions issued through the Clean Development Mechanism). Furthermore, political leadership from the European Union and the United Kingdom, as the incoming Presidency of the UNFCCC talks, will be essential in securing a positive outcome.

Failure to agree on rules for international cooperation on mitigating climate change will have implications for international aviation climate policy. It will delay the implementation of the aviation climate agreement or worse, lead to partly “nationalize” the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA). In 2020, the International Civil Aviation Organization will develop its own rules and criteria for determining eligible carbon credits for its scheme, but this will not provide sufficient clarity for CORSIA to function properly. To clear up all uncertainty, CORSIA needs clear rules on international cooperation to also be set through the UNFCCC.

The 2020 US presidential election is a wildcard. The election is scheduled one week before the start of the Glasgow climate talks. The US is the only major economy not part of the Paris Agreement, which is the bedrock of existing international climate policy. The decision to withdraw the US from this agreement was taken by the Trump administration. All leading political opponents of President Trump have indicated that, if they win, they will bring the US back into the Paris Agreement. If the US rejoins the Paris Agreement, due to change in administration or policy, it would be a major boost to international cooperation for addressing climate change issues. As long as the US stays on the sidelines, other countries, especially in Europe, need to play a bigger role in supporting international cooperation on climate change.

Other key climate trends to watch in 2020

  • Increasing calls from the public for climate action will lead some countries, especially in Europe, to put in place costly domestic climate policies.

  • Aviation will continue to come under pressure from the “no fly movement” led by Greta and others. In response, policy makers will target aviation with taxes.

  • The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), chaired by Michael Bloomberg, will increase in visibility. Investors will disclose more information about climate change related liabilities of their investments.

  • Companies will incorporate sustainability into their reporting practices.


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