Blog Post

Question 2 for COP 21: Transparency

Nov 19, 2015 | Brian P. Flannery, Raymond J. Kopp, Clayton Munnings

In this blog series, Questions for COP 21, we are posing several questions that should be considered before—and after—the negotiations. Here we address transparency: How should a transparency process be designed to ensure credible analysis, reporting, and review of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs)?

In international climate negotiations, transparency processes aim to build confidence that all participants understand national proposals and the progress required to achieve them. Depending on decisions to be taken in Paris, they may also play a role in compliance and as an essential input to ongoing cycles to review and periodically renew commitments. Information from reports and proposals also helps to inform views on whether individual nations are taking appropriately ambitious action, on questions of comparability of effort, and also on implications of aggregate actions for achieving global goals.

Under the Paris process, formal elements include procedures for Parties to submit proposals for action and report progress, and for external verification. Issues to be resolved concern: timing and content of proposals, methodologies for measurement and reporting and procedures for verification (MRV), and how the principle common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) will apply to all aspects. The world now has extensive experience and reasonably well developed procedures for Kyoto-like obligations based on economy-wide commitments and national emissions inventories. However, the Paris Agreement ushers in a very different set of proposed actions—for now labeled ambiguously as “contributions” to avoid prejudging whether they are commitments or pledges—that cover all nations but in different ways. As well, transparency procedures will now apply not only to emissions but almost certainly to finance and other means of implementation.

Ahead of Paris, nations agreed to submit proposed actions as Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs). However, they did not agree on their content, duration, accompanying information, or format. Developed Countries called for INDCs to focus on mitigation. Developing Countries also sought information on means of implementation: finance, technology transfer, and capacity building. Some addressed adaptation; others did not. Some made pledges through 2025, others through 2030. Developed nations made economy-wide pledges; pledges from developing nations come in many varieties, e.g. improvements over business-as-usual, or action in specific sectors or technologies. Lack of a common framework and duration makes comparisons very challenging. Moreover, citing CBDR, developing nations argue that they should not be held to the same standards for MRV as developed nations. Depending on outcomes for related compliance issues, transparency procedures may also provide input to compliance processes, which would require further elements associated with reviews, possible application of sanctions, and appeals.

A number of other actors, including intergovern­mental organizations, such as the United National Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), academics, think tanks, environmental and business groups, nations and others, will inform the climate debate and promote transparency by conducting independent reviews of national proposals, progress, and aggregate outcomes. For example, analyses using nationally and regionally resolved, multi-sectoral integrated assessment models (IAMs) can inform ex ante review of proposals. They can clarify whether information in proposals is adequate to conduct simulations or whether they require additional information and assumptions. Similarly, ex post analyses of performance may need to account for unanticipated events that materially affected planned outcomes. For example, in recent years, tsunamis, financial crises, and technology revolutions have altered expected outcomes, causing emissions to be higher or lower than anticipated. IAM assessments will be essential to evaluate the aggregate impact of the entire portfolio of INDCS not only for global emissions, but also for patterns of investment and carbon leakage. Business will attempt to assess not only how INDCs impact their emissions, but also how they affect supply and value chains and overall markets.

Transparency processes will be essential to inform the proposed new durable process to review and periodically renew commitments at relatively short intervals. Policy designers will need to consider implications for institutional linkages and the timely availability of relevant, reliable information. Overall, the challenge will be to build a transparency framework that builds confidence in the process and evolves and improves with time going forward.

Read more posts in the series, Questions for COP 21: