Paris Climate Agreement Explained: How will we track country progress?

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Countries finalized an historic new international climate change agreement that will include new climate commitments from all major countries. More than 185 countries responsible for over 95 percent of the world's climate pollution announced specific national emissions reduction plans for climate action after 2020 (see here for our summary). When countries formally join this agreement, starting as early as next April, they will include these emission reduction commitments in the Paris Agreement. So how will we track the progress of countries towards these targets?

There are elements in the Paris Agreement that will help us keep track of progress over time. And there are domestic drivers within key countries that will motivate countries to act in their self-interest and meet their commitments in the Paris agreement.

The Accountability and Transparency Provisions of the Paris Agreement

The Copenhagen/Cancun agreements built essentially a three-part system for transparency and accountability by: (1) requiring that countries regularly report their emissions, climate actions, and trajectory towards their targets; (2) conducting an independent expert review of those country reports; and (3) evaluating country progress through an international public review. There were some differences in this system between developed and developing countries.

The Paris Agreement strengthens this system in several ways by creating an "enhanced transparency framework" and a "mechanism to facilitate implementation and compliance" using a common set of rules for both developed and developing countries. These systems strengthen the international system by:

  • Requiring that countries regularly report national emissions inventories that use the "good practice methodologies accepted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change" (Art 13.7a). All countries are to submit these reports at least every two years (para 91 of the Decision). These guidelines have been developed by more than one-hundred experts drawn from leading academic institutions, government agencies, and others with a broad knowledge of how to develop strong national greenhouse gas emissions reporting systems. These guidelines are the same ones that are used by developed countries, such as the US Environmental Protection Agency, for the development of their national emissions inventories.
  • Requiring that at least every two years countries report "information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving" its emissions reduction target (Art 13.7b). Developed countries currently report progress towards their target through "biennial update reports" that include a list of the measures that are being implemented domestically, additional steps that are in the works, and the overall progress towards the current targets. For example, the US biennial update report includes a quantitative assessment of whether its actions will meet its target to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 (see pages 12-19 of this US report).
  • Subjecting these national reports to a "technical expert review". This is a similar process that is used in a variety of international systems where a set of independent experts evaluate the national level reports. Developed countries have undergone their first round of this expert review under the current system and it results in a report from the experts outlining their assessment of the country-level reporting.
  • Conducting a "facilitative, multilateral examination" where countries consider the progress countries are making towards their targets (Art 9.11). This is also similar to the accountability tools used in other international regimes. Developed countries have undergone their first "multilateral assessment" as a part of the current system. This includes a process where countries ask questions in writing and in a public forum of the country under examination.
  • Developing a "mechanism to facilitate implementation and compliance" which should help track country-level progress towards their targets (Art 15). This mechanism includes the development of a committee consisting of 12 members from developed and developing countries.
  • Mandating that countries use a common accounting framework for tracking progress towards their targets (Art 4.13). This accounting framework is to provide a consistent, environmentally credible, and transparent means to show whether countries are meeting their targets (see para 31 of the Decision).

These same rules apply to developed countries to track progress towards their commitments to assist developing countries in building low-carbon and climate resilient economies (Art 9.5 and 9.7). The implementation may vary slightly, but these new strengthened systems will help keep track of the finance commitments in the Paris Agreement.

To help countries develop the domestic tools and institutions to meet these requirements, the Paris Agreement launched a "Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency". Countries committed to support this with funding to help ensure that countries gain the ability to meet this important element of the agreement (para 85-89 of the Decision).

Country action in key countries is more than just about climate - it is in their own interest

This agreement has a solid foundation to build upon as countries have realized that it is in their own interest to cut their carbon pollution. They have concluded that, far from destroying the economy, domestic climate action produces real benefits for their citizens, including new jobs, reduced poverty, and lower mortality rates. And as natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, they have seen that not addressing climate change has real and lasting consequences. This provides a powerful domestic motivation for countries to follow through on their new commitments as a part of the Paris agreement. In essence their politicians will need to follow through as their citizens are demanding the actions necessary to meet the Paris Agreement since those measures meet pressing domestic needs.

As my colleagues have discussed, there are strong domestic reasons for China and India to move forward aggressively with meeting their climate targets. For example, addressing climate change will help China to clean up its air. As my colleague from our Beijing office discussed: China is "self-motivated to cap its fossil fuel consumption and switch to cleaner energy in order to clean up its air and to ensure that the government is living up to citizens' expectations". Similar domestic factors are at play in India. India needs to build more electricity to meet its citizens' energy needs and one of the best ways to meet that need is to tap into its extensive wind and solar potential. As my colleague from our India team outlines: "India's targets are squarely anchored in domestic policy, motivated by national priorities of energy access, sustainable development, resilient cities, increased employment, and energy security."


The Paris Agreement includes key strengthened measures to ensure that countries meet their commitments. It adds an international layer of accountability to the domestic drivers that will also help hold politicians in countries accountable. The combination of these factors will help create the conditions for countries to meet their targets over time.