Three years ago countries finalized the Paris Agreement—an historic international climate change agreement—that included new climate commitments from all major countries and outlined a set of rules for the global system over the coming years. In the agreement they set out a system to track the progress of countries towards their targets—the “transparency and accountability” provisions. Countries have just agreed to a set of detailed rules to provide the world with key tools to hold countries accountable to deliver on their climate targets. Now they need to urgently implement these at home.
If you think of the agreement in Paris as the “law”—setting out the framework that will last for decades—the decisions at the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) spell out the detailed “regulations” that will spell out how countries are to implement the agreement in the next 10 years. One of the key elements of the COP24 decisions were rules around the “Transparency and Accountability” provisions (see here)—i.e., how we will track progress and hold countries accountable to deliver their national and international climate commitments. The COP24 decision sets forward robust rules for the transparency and accountability provisions with several key elements.
Single system: flexibility for the poorest countries and capacity support to strengthen over time
There were four principles sprinkled throughout the detailed rules:
- Single system with common rules for all countries using agreed methodologies, guidelines, and procedures. Countries that need flexibility in light of their capacity (i.e., lack of enough technical experts, resources, or data) are allowed limited flexibility. And there will be financial support to help strengthen the capacity of countries that need it. As a result, the EU, US, China, India, Japan, Brazil and all major emitting countries will now be under a common system.
- Time-bound flexibility that sets specific dates by which countries are expected to have the detailed reports, with some limited flexibility (i.e., one-year difference in reporting obligations).
- Flexibility must be spelled out and detailed. For any country utilizing flexibility (i.e., reporting only three of seven gases) they must provide detailed information justifying their reasons for not following the full set of expectations.
- Exceptions for the poorest countries. The least developed countries and small island developing states are given significant flexibility as they are often the smallest emitting countries in the world and have limited financial capacity.
Reporting early and often, following approved guidelines
The agreement requires that countries provide their first report under the new system by no later than the end of 2024: “Parties shall submit their first biennial transparency report and national inventory…in accordance with the modalities, procedures and guidelines at the latest by 31 December 2024” [emphasis added].
Setting an earlier “worst case” date for the first report would have been better, but there is a clear expectation that these first reports should be presented earlier, especially for the countries that have capacity (i.e., the major economies). Leadership countries can show their commitment to climate action by reporting well before the 2024 deadline.
Countries will be required to present these reports every two years and to improve their reporting over time. Each report will include: (a) a national inventory report; (b) information necessary to track a country’s progress in implementing and achieving its nationally determined contribution (i.e., its targets); and (c) financing provided to developing countries (for developed countries) and information on support needed and received (for developing countries). The rules also set a milestone to revise the reporting rules “no later than 2028,” a recognition that the techniques for tracking emissions will improve over time. The decision also recognizes that some countries have lower capacity—and account for a smaller share of emissions—so it allows the least developed countries and small island developing states to report “at their discretion”.
National Emissions Inventories: regular reporting using detailed guidelines
Countries are required to provide detailed emissions inventories at least every two years as a part of their biennial report. Countries may report annual inventories as this will better track progress towards their targets and determine early if they need to strengthen their national targets since current emissions are the most accurate assessment of how a country is doing in the fight against climate change.
The rules require a set of detailed inventory reporting guidelines that follow a high standard, including:
- Using the most recent guidelines. The decision requires the use of the most recent guidelines (i.e., currently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2016 good practice guidelines) and subsequent versions adopted at future COPs. These guidelines provide clear methodologies to help ensure that the overall inventory meets the strongest set of scientific principles.
- Reporting on key categories of emissions. The decision requires reporting on key categories of emissions, with countries only allowed to exclude small sources where data may be a challenge. Countries are required to report emissions for: “energy, industrial processes and product use, agriculture, land-use change and forestry, and waste”.
- Required reporting on key greenhouse gases. And countries “shall report seven gases (CO2, CH4, N20, HFCs, PFCs, SF6 and NF3)”. Developing countries that need flexibility in light of their capacities can instead report the three main gases (CO2, CH4, and N2O). For most countries these three gases are the dominant source so even if some only report three gases we will have a solid picture of their biggest sources. And they are required to report on the “methodologies, emissions factor and activity data at the most disaggregated level” so we can double-check how the data was derived and cross-reference against other data.
- Recent data and annual time series. The decision requires that the reporting include 1990 data and annual data for each subsequent year. For those developing countries with limited capacity they can report 2020 as the starting point and then each year afterwards. When presenting data, countries are to present data that is from no later than two years ago (i.e., a report in 2024 has to have at least 2022 data), with flexibility for developing countries that lack capacity to report data no more than three years ago (i.e., 2024 report has 2021 data). A two-year delay is similar to what developed countries currently report given when complete data is often available.
- Assessing uncertainty and provide quality control. The decision mandates that countries quantitatively assess uncertainty in their emissions and sinks for all sources. They are also to have procedures to ensure quality assurance and control.
- Making improvements over time. For areas where countries assess that there is uncertainty, they are to work on improving reporting on those sources over time.
Tracking Progress Against Targets: inventories, indicators, and projections
The two most accurate means to regularly track country progress towards their target are annual emissions and assessments against key indicators for a specific national target. So the rules require that country biennial reports include their emissions inventories (as discussed above) and details on key indicators to track progress against their nationally determined contribution (NDC). In addition, the rules require that countries provide detailed emissions projections to assess where their emissions are likely headed (i.e., below the targets, going in the wrong direction, and off track by a little or a lot).
These rules include specific methods that will provide a strong picture of whether countries are adequately progressing towards their target and will provide an early warning if they are off-track. They do this through the following procedures:
- Annual emissions inventories. Key countries have nationally determined targets which include an emissions metric (i.e., economy-wide, total carbon dioxide emissions, etc) so the national inventory will serve as a key check to measure progress as it will provide the most accurate information on the emissions that are driving climate change.
- Measuring against key indicators for the national targets. The decision requires that countries “identify indicator(s) it has selected to track progress towards the implementation and achievement of its NDC”. And as a part of its biennial report countries “shall provide an assessment of whether it has achieved the target(s) for its NDC”. This will require countries to provide detailed information to confirm their progress towards their national target.
- Projections of greenhouse gas emissions. Countries will be required to report emissions projections that start with their national inventory and go out at least 15 years, with flexibility for countries that lack capacity to project emissions through their NDC time period. The projections are to include two scenarios: (a) “with measures” (i.e., includes emissions with policies adopted to date) and (b) “with additional measures” (i.e., emissions based upon policies not yet adopted). Country projections are to be spelled out by sector and gas, provide details on the methodology used including the models used and assumptions embedded in the projections.
Accountability: technical review, multilateral assessment, and compliance
Pursuant to the Paris Agreement, progress towards achieving the national targets are to be assessed using an “accountability” system that includes a: (a) “technical expert review”; (b) “facilitative, multilateral examination”; and (c) “mechanism to facilitate implementation and compliance”. These systems create a clear mechanism to know if countries are off-track to meet their target and hold them accountable to make a course correction.
The COP24 decisions furthered the rules around each of these:
- The Technical Expert Review will include review by a set of technical experts that looks at the details in a country's biennial report. The first review will be conducted through an “in-country” review (i.e., the experts make visit the country). This in-country review is to be conducted at least twice in a ten-year period, with at least one of these conducted during a period when the experts can review if the country has met their NDC. For other periods a “desk review” could be conducted by the technical experts – meaning that the reviewers don’t travel to the country but instead conduct the review virtually. The decision sets out rules for how those reviews are to be conducted, including how the country being reviewed is to “make every reasonable effort to respond to all questions and provide additional clarifying information and comments to the technical expert review report in a timely manner”.
- A Multilateral Assessment is to be conducted with two phases: (a) a written question and answer step where countries submit questions and the country being reviewed has to provide written responses; and (b) a “working group” session where the country being reviewed is publicly asked questions on their reports and progress towards their targets. Each of these two steps will be made available online, with the “working group” session webcast so reporters, NGOs, the public, and other countries can make an independent assessment of progress.
- Facilitating implementation and compliance through a committee that can “take appropriate measures” when a country hasn’t communicated or maintained an NDC, submitted its biennial report, or participated in the multilateral assessment. The committee is empowered to recommend the development of an action plan to address the issues and “issue findings of fact” on non-compliance.
Mobilizing New Tools to Hold Countries Accountable for Progress Towards their Targets
The Paris Agreement included key strengthened measures to ensure that countries meet their commitments. The detailed rulebook adopted in Poland this year takes those strengthened measures and gives them life. It spells out the common rules, expectations, and procedures to help us track country-level emissions and progress towards targets. It will add a new and more powerful set of tools to help ensure that countries are living up to their commitments so that everyone can see clearly if the atmosphere is seeing the same thing as the national reports. And it creates an important way to hold countries accountable to delivering on their commitments.