Opening our Books & Defending Them: US Proposes Provisions for Countries to Stand Behind Their Global Warming Commitments

Here in Bangkok at the climate negotiations, the US lead negotiator Jonathan Pershing sparked a little heat on the first day of the session (as you can see from this and this news coverage).  Within the climate negotiations there is a long standing important set of words: "common but differentiated responsibilities".  These four magic words have different meanings to different countries.

So the heated moment was based upon a clear statement from the US lead negotiator that the US thinks that there is a need for an important discussion on the "common" elements that all countries should have to do, while recognizing the "differentiated responsibilities".

On Thursday Jonathan Pershing elaborated on what the US considers important "common" responsibilities that all countries should have to undertake.  They can be grouped into three categories.

1. Enhance National Reporting and Actions.  Mr. Pershing outlined that the world needs a transparent, clear, and open manner to solidify what countries commit to.  This mechanism would allow countries to formalize their actions before they undertake take them.  This can be accomplished in a variety of forms as proposed by countries -- referred to as an appendix, annex, schedule, or registry in the negotiating text as I discussed here). 

There is currently a process in the international framework for countries to report their actions -- called "National Communications" -- but these are done after the country takes the action (not before), aren't formalized in the international agreement in a "binding manner", and aren't frequent enough to really know what is going on in a country.  So Mr. Pershing was referring to a sort of "Enhanced National Communication" with an "Enhanced Registry" (the "registry" concept has been proposed by some developing countries as the AP discussed here).

2. Establish a Means to Review Our Adequacy of Effort and Assess Progress.  We need a means and a process to consider how a country will meet its development objectives within a carbon constrained world.  The US and other countries have proposed something called a "low carbon development" or "low carbon emissions" strategy (as I discussed here).  These strategies would provide a long-term perspective of where the country proposes its emissions will head, the set of actions that it will undertake to be on that low carbon path, and any assistance it will need towards achieving that path.  Those actions could be added over time and the path could change as appropriate to solve the challenge.

And we need a way to more frequently check-in on whether a country is making progress towards that effort.  How is the country doing in their efforts to reduce emissions?  What transparent facts do we have about their progress?  In the current international agreement, countries are to develop national emissions inventories that report their emissions.  Developed countries do these frequently, while developing countries currently don't conduct them as frequently as we need for a robust understanding of where they are in real time.  We need to improve developed country inventories and the frequency of developing country inventories over time if we are going to have any sense of progress or lack of progress towards achieving the 2°C objective.  This will help build much greater trust that a country is actually doing its part. 

On this front, the US and other developed countries have to take some steps to improve their own emissions inventories.  And the US and other developed countries need to help developing countries improve their reporting (as my colleague noted would be helpful for China).      

3. "We Should All Stand Behind Our Effort".  At the UN Summit in New York, President Obama stated: developing countries need to "agree to stand behind those commitments just as the developed nations must stand behind their own".  Well Mr. Pershing expanded on that point a bit by suggesting that we need a means for those countries that are achieving their commitments to be recognized as good global partners.  And we need a mechanism where those countries that aren't living up to their commitments are to be recognized as such.


All of this goes at the heart of two key elements of the global effort: the nature of countries' commitments (as I've discussed here) and building confidence that all countries are living up to their commitments. 

On both fronts we have to build upon and strengthen the existing frameworks for the sake of the global environment.  After all, if countries aren't doing what they say they are doing, then emissions aren't being cut to the point that we need.  That isn't helpful as we don't have a lot of wiggle room in our efforts to solve global warming.  If they are meeting their commitments then we need to give them all the recognition possible.

The US proposed that on these monitoring, reporting, and verification issues, all countries should have to do a common set of things.  They made it clear that the types and forms of actions that developed countries would take would be different than those of developing countries.  But everyone would have to "open up their books and defend them" in a similar manner.

Just like every company has to open up their books to scrutiny, so too should all the countries of the world on global warming pollution.  The planet is the auditor and it doesn't give extensions and the late fees are pretty pricey.