The outcome of the climate negotiations in Warsaw in November 2013 was met with disappointment: by early 2015 all countries were asked to present their initial contributions to the climate agreement to be signed in Paris that same year. This new wording was considered to be a weakening of the final agreement: instead of a clear timeframe for the presentation of the mitigation commitments, countries were asked to come up with vaguely defined initial contributions. In this article we argue that far from being a threat to an ambitious climate agreement, contributions open new possibilities of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Above all, contributions can play a significant role in reducing CO2 emissions in two sectors that are steadily increasing their share of global emissions: steel and cement. Although the consumption of these two products is predicted to increase considerably in the future, available technologies allow only a limited reduction in emissions. One of the ways to significantly limit emissions from the steel and cement sectors is to invest in Research, Development and Deployment (RD&D) of ‘breakthrough technologies’ that could bring benefits in the future. Due to the long time span between the initial investment and the results they produce, such activities can only be conducted with strong support from the governments, which could consider them as their contribution to the future climate goals.
The impact of contributions on the future climate agreement depends on the way they are defined. Whereas they cannot replace commitments, they could complement them and their flexibility could help to bridge the firewall between the developed and developing countries in their possible mitigation actions.
Contributions may take different forms and thus contribute to the utilization of the mitigation options that are difficult to quantify.
In the steel and cement sectors contributions could make it possible to go beyond the rather limited options to reduce the CO2 emissions available at the moment by instigating investment in RD&D which (and may) in the long-term result in the deployment of new low-carbon technologies.
The involvement of states is necessary to ensure the predictability of financing and the long-term engagement of private actors.