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Greater Transparency & Accountability in Global Warming Agreement Reached in South Africa

Jake Schmidt

Posted December 16, 2011 in Greening China, Solving Global Warming

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The agreements in Durban provide very important hints of a stronger future agreement that includes legal commitments by all countries.  This is important progress.  Little noticed in the overall commentary of the Durban outcomes was important progress on implementing the agreements that were reached in Cancun last year.  As a result, the agreements in Durban establish the operational guidelines and institutions to ensure that the key elements agreed in Cancun begin working on-the-ground immediately.  The agreements in Durban on transparency and accountability made important progress on building these foundations.  Some important details will have to be strengthened over time, but the guidelines are a solid beginning.

[The agreements in Durban essentially boil down to three key aspects: (1) extending the Kyoto Protocol for some countries beyond 2012; (2) launching a process to negotiate a new legal agreement to cover all countries; and (3) implementing the agreements reached in CancunA previous post outlined details on the process to negotiate a new legal agreement and some top line summary points on the efforts to implement the Cancun Agreements.  This post focuses on the “transparency and accountability” provisions that implement the agreements reached in Cancun.]   

DEVELOPED COUNTRY TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY

Following from Cancun, NRDC outlined several key design elements for the guidelines and operations of developed country transparency and accountabilityThe agreement in Durban made important progress on several of these fronts by (see Section II.A and Annex I and II of one of the Decisions in Durban):

1. Tracking progress in reducing emissions and implementing the necessary actions – outlining the details that are to be included in the biennial reports.  The agreement in Durban requires reporting on a number of key elements essential for regularly tracking the progress of each developed country towards their emissions reduction commitments, including by:

  • Requiring that the first biennial report will be submitted by the beginning of 2014.  The agreement in Cancun outlined that developed countries would submit reports every two years, but didn’t specify when the first one was to be submitted.
  • Building upon existing reporting provisions so that the current rules are the minimum standard that is required.  Under the current system developed countries report annual emissions data according to internationally agreed rules.  Similarly, developed countries are required to report on their emissions reduction actions.  The agreement in Durban ensures that those existing requirements are retained as a minimum requirement.
  • Outlining the information that a country will have to report on its economy-wide target.  In Cancun, countries outlined economy-wide reduction targets, but important details on those targets weren’t included in this decision.  The Durban agreement specifies that countries are to include details on: the base year (e.g., 1990, 2005, etc), gases and sectors covered, how they are going to count emissions and increased sequestration in the forestry and agriculture sectors, and their use of international market-based measures (e.g., offsets) to meet their target.

2. Tracking financial and technical support to developing countries –requiring common reporting of the financial assistance provided to developing countries.  The Durban agreement requires that developed countries report their financial and technical assistance using common reporting formats so there is a transparent means to track this assistance.  This reporting is to breakdown the investments by mitigation vs. adaptation, multilateral vs. bilateral, and the type of funding (e.g., loan, grant, etc.).

3. Holding countries accountable specifying the rules for the international review and assessment of developed country actions (the “International Assessment and Review”).  In Durban, countries agreed that the “international assessment and review” would be implemented under the following rules:

  • First review would commence two months after the first biennial report is submitted – so in the first part of 2014—and would occur every two years. 
  • Includes both technical reviews and international assessment by all countries.  The guidelines agreed require a two step process for each developed country.  Step 1—Technical analysis by experts.  An expert team is tasked with analyzing each biennial report, annual greenhouse gas inventory, and full “national communication” of the country.  These experts will develop a summary report based on their findings.  Step 2— “Multilateral assessment” of the progress of the country towards its emissions reduction target.  The country under consultation will make a presentation and then there will be discussion on the elements of their reports, the expert analysis, and any other questions that countries have on the reporting.  This forum will result in a summary report which contains a record of the discussion.

DEVELOPING COUNTRY TRANSPARENCY & ACCOUNTABILITY

Going into Durban, NRDC set forth a number of key features of a strong system of “transparency and accountability” for developing countriesThe agreement in Durban made critical progress to implement a number of these key issues by (see: see Section II.B and Annex III and IV of one of the Decisions in Durban).

1. Tracking progress in reducing emissions and implementing the necessary actions – outlining the details that are to be included in the biennial reports.  The agreement in Durban details a number of key elements essential for regularly tracking the progress of each developing country towards their emissions reduction commitments, including by:

  • Requiring that the first biennial update report be submitted by the end of 2014, with exemptions for the least developed countries and small island states.  Subsequent reports are to be provided every two years after that. 
  • Mandating reporting of more up-to-date global warming pollution data for each country.  The first biennial report is to include global warming pollution emissions from no later than 2010.  Subsequent reports are to contain emissions data no more than 4 years prior to when it was submitted.  Countries are to provide consistent time series data.  So instead of global warming pollution data that is more than 10 years old for many developing countries we’ll get data which is at most from 4 years ago and which is documented consistently over time.  This is an important improvement which will give us more real time information on where countries stand and their progress to their commitments. 
  • Ensuring that countries provide detailed global warming pollution data by sector and all key gases according to internationally approved methodologies.  Countries are to use the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change approved methodologies and to provide the detailed data which underlies their overall reporting.  This would mean that the underlying data and assumptions would be available for peer review.  In addition, countries agreed to broaden the reporting to all six greenhouse gases, instead of the required three that are currently required for developing countries.
  • Provide detailed information on the specific actions a country is taking to reduce global warming pollution.  Countries would have to document each action they are taking to reduce pollution, information on the progress in implementation, and the impact of those measures on pollution.

2. Holding countries accountable –adopting rules for the international consultation and analysis of developing country emissions and actions (the “International Consultation and Analysis”).  In Durban, countries agreed that the “international consultation and analysis” would be implemented under the following rules:

  • First review would commence six months after the first biennial report is submitted – so by mid-2014.
  • Includes both technical reviews and international assessment by all countries.  The guidelines agreed require a two step process for each developing country.  Step 1—Technical analysis by experts.  An expert team is tasked with analyzing each biennial report, annual greenhouse gas inventory, and full “national communication” of the country.  These experts will develop a summary report based on their findings.  Step 2— “Multilateral assessment” of the progress of the country towards its emissions reduction target.  The country under consultation will make a presentation and then there will be discussion on the elements of their reports, the expert analysis, and any other questions that countries have on the reporting.  This forum will result in a summary report which contains a record of the discussion.
  • Each country is subject to analysis and review, with small-island developing states and least developed countries given the choice to be assessed as a group.    

AREAS FOR STRENGTHENING OR GREATER CLARITY.  Countries agreed to strengthen these rules over time in recognition that ensuring accountability will require a system that is regularly improved.  There are three key areas that need strengthening or greater clarity either through improved guidelines or in the actual operation of the process.  First, the guidelines aren’t clear on whether “observers” (e.g., non-governmental organizations) will able to attend the “multilateral assessments” for developed and developing countries.  The common practice in the climate negotiations is for similar types of sessions to be open to the public.  After all, no country wants to avoid the spotlight, especially if they are living up to their commitments.  A country would only want a closed session if it had something to hide.  It will be important to ensure that there is real public access to the ongoing assessments.

Second, it will be important for developing countries to shorten the time lag between the submission of their report and the reported global warming pollution data that is contained in the report.  Once a country has built-up a systematic means to track global warming pollution, it is critical and feasible to maintain a regular reporting.

Lastly, it is essential to strengthen the system to catch the countries that aren’t on track to meet their target.  The agreement in Durban outlines some systems to better assess whether a country has the policies in place to meet its target.  But these will need strengthening over time in order to ensure that we see early on any countries that are “off track”.

GREATER TRANSPARENCY AND ACCOUNTABILITY AGREED IN DURBAN: NOW LET’S GET TO WORK AND IMPROVE OVER TIME

Countries have agreed to the critical detailed guidelines of more frequent, transparent, and credible reporting of their emissions and actions.  It is time to move quickly to implementation.  The first reports are due starting in 2014, so countries need to begin to establish a system to document these details and begin collecting the necessary information.

The system will need to be improved and strengthened over time as nothing is ever done in the first round, but these rules are a solid beginning.

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Comments

guthrumDec 17 2011 10:20 AM

Off-topic comment removed, per NRDC policy (see below).

ErickDec 18 2011 08:16 AM

You’re really getting used to delete data…, Are you going to “hide” this comment too?

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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