Negotiating transparency for the Paris deal: next stop, Bangkok

As climate experts gather in Bangkok for the final negotiating session before the December UN climate talks, guest blogger Tshewang Dorji discusses the transparency requirements of the Paris Agreement – and why these need to work for the LDCs.

Guest blog by
28 August 2018

Tshewang Dorji is a lead Transparency negotiator for the Least Developed Countries Group and is Deputy Chief Environment Officer of the National Environment Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan. 

Bhutan has committed to remain carbon neutral, mainly thanks to its high forest carbon sequestration capacity. Some people say that trees in Bhutan have legal rights, referring to the constitutional mandate for 60% of our land area to remain forested for all time. (Adam Brill, Creative Commons via Flickr)

To fulfil the promise of the Paris Agreement, parties need to know how others are progressing on their climate pledges. This calls for a reliable and comprehensive transparency system that holds countries to account, including on their plans to cut emissions, adapt to the impacts of climate change and provide necessary financial, technology development and capacity-building support to developing countries.

The Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) requests and reviews information on climate action and support from all countries and, as such, is a crucial tool for nurturing trust and building confidence between parties that they can deliver an effective agreement. Crucially, the ETF will inform the global stocktake, a process that has been introduced to provide an overall picture on how far the Agreement is meeting its long-term goals. 

Getting the rules right

The so-called Paris ’rulebook’ – setting out the rules for turning the commitments of Paris into action – is due to be finalised at COP24 in December. As the transparency coordinator for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) Group it is my role to push for a set of transparent and practical rules that will clarify what countries need to do to put the Paris deal into action. 

But LDCs have very little national government budget dedicated to this, institutions that track and implement national climate action are thin, and these countries also have limited human resource. How can we ensure the transparency requirements of the Paris Agreement take this into account?

More expertise needed for LDCs

In general, most developed countries have been reporting more frequently and thoroughly under the current transparency system than developing countries. As a result, they have accumulated a wealth of experience and built up capacity within national institutions that support the Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of emissions and emissions reductions which underpin the ETF. 

The LDCs, however, find themselves in a much more challenging situation. Most of us have prepared and submitted only two or three National Communications – reports on measures taken by countries to address climate change – while most developed countries are on their fifth. With limited experience and insufficient systems for gathering reliable data, the LDCs are falling short of what is required by the ETF.

Why fly-in fly-out consultants don’t work

My country, Bhutan – along with many other LDCs – does not yet have robust mechanisms in place that retain human resources. Civil servants often move around government departments or pursue career opportunities elsewhere. As people leave, we lose crucial ‘institutional memory’ which prevents us from building on previous rounds of reporting. The few institutional systems that we had put in place (e.g. for generating data and reporting on that data) are project driven and cease to exist once the project is concluded.

These struggles are a reality for many LDCs. Bringing in international consultants to write our National Communications or compile our inventories of greenhouse gas emissions may be a short-term solution, but it does not build the institutional knowledge we need to report on how we are addressing climate change over the longer term: when these consultants pack up and leave, our country is left with the same systemic problems. Local capacities need to be built from the bottom-up – and promptly. 

Two key transparency questions to be tackled in Bangkok

Next week’s talks in Bangkok are the final negotiating session before COP24. There are two crucial areas that I will be following closely: 

  1. What does ‘flexibility’ mean? The Paris Agreement sets out that the ETF needs to be implemented with “built-in flexibilities” by taking into account the “different capacities” of developing countries. This is a noble aspiration. But the Agreement does not describe out what that flexibility looks like in practice. What is the ‘right amount’ of flexibility for developing countries? So far, discussions around this area have been sensitive and problematic. This Bangkok session needs to clearly define what ‘flexibility’ means and how this definition is going to be put into practice. 
     
  2. The Paris Agreement stipulates that all countries must agree on how to “build on and enhance” existing transparency arrangements which will be replaced with this enhanced system after 2020. The foundations of the ETF have been developed over more than 20 years and bring many strengths – for example a strong expert review process has helpfully identified many capacity building needs for developing countries; it provides opportunities for parties to share their experiences on preparation of reports, and above all calls for countries to provide reliable data on carbon emission and how much carbon is being absorbed by natural sinks. There is no value in re-inventing the wheel: negotiators need to be careful of how to interpret the term “build-on and enhance” with respect to the system of transparency to be introduced.

During a recent week-long strategy workshop in Paro, Bhutan, I joined fellow LDC coordinators to discuss the crucial links between mitigation, adaptation, climate finance and other strands under the Paris rulebook. It is rare that LDC coordinators get the opportunity to meet in this way – but we enjoyed rich and fruitful sessions, setting us on the right track for the Bangkok session. Much work still needs to be done – but the LDCs are ready to push for a transparency framework that recognises our countries’ challenges while holding developed countries to account to keep the ambition of Paris on course.

About the author

Tshewang Dorji is a lead Transparency negotiator for the Least Developed Countries Group and led the national process in formulating Bhutan’s first National Determined Contribution. He serves as Deputy Chief Environment Officer of the National Environment Commission, Royal Government of Bhutan. 

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