Reviewing climate action: the hidden key for greater ambition
As countries prepare to negotiate the last components of the Paris Agreement’s enhanced transparency framework, Fernanda Alcobé looks at the review process, explores some significant challenges ahead and provides recommendations for designing a more efficient and inclusive system.
This week, climate negotiators will gather to discuss the remaining issues relating to the Paris Agreement’s enhanced transparency framework (ETF) which is due to be finalised at this year's UN climate negotiations (COP26). The ETF is a new and ‘enhanced’ reporting and review system aimed at building trust and confidence among Parties to the agreement.
The ETF will be operationalised using the modalities, procedures and guidelines (MPGs). These are rules and principles to guide countries in implementing more transparent climate reporting and review processes. Complete MPGs are needed to start preparing templates, adapt reporting software, design and deliver training and to provide clarity to Parties on the type and format of the information required.
The reporting and reviewing phases are equally important components of the ETF. However, countries have treated them unevenly and disconnected from each other.
Given the complexity and number of tables and formats, countries have focused more on reporting, but they risk overlooking the review process and its crucial role in putting the Paris Agreement ambition cycle in motion.
Transparency in action
Kicking off by the end of 2024, the ETF will work in cycles. The first cycle starts when a country presents their national report, called a biennial transparency report (BTR), containing information on its progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mitigation and adaptation actions, and support provided and received.
A group of technical experts then review the BTR – seeking consistency with the MPGs, progress towards national emission targets, and identifying areas for improvement. Their findings feed into the next BTR, starting a new and enhanced transparency cycle.
An effective review process helps countries to improve their tracking and reporting systems, make well-informed decisions to increase climate action and, collectively, progress towards keeping global warming to 1.5°C.
The review process under the Paris Agreement doesn’t start from scratch. It builds on almost 20 years of experience with the current reporting and reviewing system under the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). But many developing countries only entered the review process in 2015.
Despite this long journey, several challenges persist – and will grow under the more comprehensive and stringent ETF. Issues include:
A limited number of experts
UNFCCC estimates that around 1,500 experts will be needed to respond to the first round of BTR submissions – three times the current figure.
This is a huge challenge, considering that experts need to be officially nominated by their countries, have some experience with national reporting, successfully complete training, have availability (the entire review cycle can take between 7.5 and 9.5 months), and be financially supported to participate when travelling is involved.
Moreover, review teams should be gender and geographically balanced and include a similar number of experts from developed and developing countries.
New review sections
The MPGs include new reporting requirements for all, such as information for tracking progress on Nationally Determined Contributions, and some new requirements for developing countries such as reporting on adaptation actions. New requirements require additional expertise within review teams.
Reporting on adaptation is not mandatory, and negotiators are still discussing whether non-mandatory sections will be reviewed. But adaptation is crucial for developing countries, in particular for the least developed countries. Reporting on it can showcase their efforts and needs, and receiving feedback from review experts can improve implementation and facilitate reporting.
Need for more effective training
Almost all current review training programmes are online, self-paced, without instructors and only available for certain periods during the year.
The self-study mode without instructor support is demanding for developing country experts: the pass rate rose significantly when training included in-person seminars. Limited internet accessibility and equipment also hamper vulnerable countries’ participation in virtual settings.
Recommendations for negotiators
Countries should consider the function of the review process and implementation challenges when negotiating remaining transparency elements. A sustainable, effective and efficient review process starts from the design phase.
In the upcoming sessions, delegates should aim for:
An integrated approach
As report and review are deeply interlinked, designing solid reporting tables and formats and clear reporting outlines will facilitate the review work. Accessible and transparent information reduces the review time and the possibility of differing interpretations by experts.
A more inclusive process
To expand the pool of review experts, especially from developing countries, it is vital to design a training programme that considers their needs. This can be achieved by putting the Consultative Group of Experts (CGE) at the heart of the design process. The CGE is a UNFCCC-constituted body with long experience in providing technical assistance and building capacity of transparency experts from developing countries.
Adequate and sufficient support
Developed countries should provide enough financial support to design and implement a training programme at the scale needed and responsive to developing countries’ needs. Support should also be available for training on reporting, as experience at the national level is required to become a reviewer.
If countries do not have trained experts able to prepare and submit transparency reports, it will be very unlikely that people from those countries can then enter the review training programme.
There are only three years left to build the technical infrastructure and have the ETF fully operational. We are running out of time. In the months ahead, delegates need to make effective progress with a focus on delivering – at COP26 – a balanced and inclusive report-review package that enables greater ambition and reaching the Paris Agreement’s goals.