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Improving Accuracy and Accountability in the International Global Warming Agreement

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Having a strong, credible, and transparent system for tracking greenhouse gas emissions and the actions of a country is an essential building block of an effective international system to address global warming. This was a key issue at the Copenhagen Climate Summit in 2009. Resolving important details about how these pieces would be implemented has been a central part of the ongoing global warming negotiations. Advancing progress toward robust measurement, reporting, and verification systems is an imperative for the Cancun Climate Summit. Today NRDC is releasing a new set of recommendations on how to improve the current system of tracking the carbon and actions of countries (available here). Key countries such as China and India are moving in this direction so firming up these guidelines should be within reach.  

While the agreement in Copenhagen provided some important improvements on the transparency and accountability aspects of the international global warming system, important detailed rules need to be outlined in subsequent agreements. So what should those agreements include? We recommend that agreement contain the following details.

Explicitly outlining the process for developed countries would build trust and ensure a common minimum level for their monitoring and reporting. Developed countries should commit to further guidelines that:

  1. Produce national emissions inventories on an annual basis.
  2. Abide by a standard format for reporting on the use of market mechanisms and land-use, land-use change, and forestry (LULUCF). This reporting should contain transparent details on how a country reports its LULUCF emissions and what actions were counted as offsets by the country. 
  3. Submit a national report every two years which provides details on the countries greenhouse gas emissions, implementation status of the country's emissions reduction actions, and use of market mechanisms and LULUCF. This report would continue to be subject to frequent expert review by the in-country review teams that currently evaluate and identify issues with developed country emission inventories and National Communications.
  4. Submit annual national reports on funding provided to developing countries.
Detailing improvements to the National Communication process for developing countries is essential. While the agreement in Copenhagen outlined some important parameters for the improved system, detailed agreements and subsequent implementation guidelines are necessary. Such agreements and guidelines should commit countries to:*
  1. Produce annual greenhouse gas emissions inventories or move to annual reporting over time with special provisions for the least developed countries. The agreement should outline that countries need to include detailed time-series of emissions up to the most recent date possible, provide detailed sectoral data, and include documentation of methods and data sources.
  2. Submit a national report every two years that includes details on the countries greenhouse gas emissions, a detailed description of mitigation actions planned and implemented, the status of implementation of the country's emissions reduction actions, and information on the country's process for domestic collection and validation of reported data. A full national communication that includes all the other details would be reported less frequently (e.g., every 4 to 6 years).
  3. Provide details on how the country performs domestic data collection and validation

Providing financial support to aid developing countries in building regular measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems is necessary.Developed countries should help developing countries build robust, transparent, and more frequent systems to track progress in reducing emissions. This funding should assist in building lasting institutions and systems to track this data over time. A modest and regular investment will pay significant dividends in helping these countries build such a system.

Key countries are moving in the direction of more frequent, detailed, and transparent reporting. While there are important and necessary improvements to the reporting of emissions and actions by developed countries, these countries already regularly report so moving in the direction of better reporting is easy. Many developing countries don’t currently report according to these improvements, but key countries are making important strides in this direction. Many of these countries are improving their systems for domestic reasons which increases the longevity of the reforms. For example some positive signs are emerging in the following countries.

  • Mexico has its fourth National Communication which contains its emissions inventory through 2006** and details on the actions it is taking. Mexico has been improving the frequency of its reporting each time and included much more detailed information as its reporting has progressed.
  • Brazil's deforestation rates are made publicly available on the internet during regular intervals (Portuguese) and with detail for each Brazilian State. This satellite data is used by the Brazilian government and outside organizations to estimate the greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation loss.
  • India recently submitted its second National Communication which contains its emissions inventory with 2007 data**, detailed breakouts of key sectors, and details on the methodologies used to develop the inventory. It is developed by a diverse set of Indian-based research institutions which should help with more for regular reporting.
  • China has signaled that its second National Communication, which will be much more comprehensive than its initial National Communication, will be available by the end of the year and that it will be developing a database which hopefully will enable it to more frequently report (as outlined in this presentation by a key Chinese researcher). Under the current Five Year Plan which ends this year, the government has been reporting the progress of individual provinces in meeting the national 20 percent energy intensity reduction target. And a carbon intensity target will be added for provinces starting next year, so all these efforts will aid China in meeting its own domestic energy and emissions targets.
  • US now requires the reporting of greenhouse gas emissions from large sources and suppliers in the United States. So all suppliers of fossil fuels, facilities that emit over a certain size threshold, and other sources of emissions are required to submit annual reports to the US EPA.
Improving the system is in the best interest of all countries. Having a robust, transparent, and accountable system benefits all countries. For countries that are taking action, such a system will help them get the legitimate recognition they deserve for their actions. It will also help the country with its own domestic implementation since having accurate, up to date, and credible information will provide countries with the basis to understand the impact of their policies and identify areas for more targeted effort. For countries, that are on the front lines of the impacts of climate change such as the small-island or African states ensuring that the largest emitters are reducing their emissions as pledged is paramount to reducing the impacts that they'll feel.

So an agreement which begins to improve the transparency and accountability around countries reporting of emissions and actions is within reach in Cancun.

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* These recommendations are based upon a report conducted for NRDC Reporting of National Communications and GHG Inventories by Non-Annex I Parties under the Climate Convention, available soon here: http://www.nrdc.org/globalWarming/trackingcarbon.asp

** Note that most developed countries, including the US and the EU most recent greenhouse gas inventory was reported in 2010 and only contains emissions through 2008.

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