As the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Marrakech draws to a close, it is becoming increasingly clear that credible monitoring and transparency procedures are urgently needed. Otherwise national pledges to address climate change in the spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement will not build sufficient global trust.
The 2015 Paris Agreement marked a shift towards countries making emission reduction pledges known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and a new Transparency Framework (Article 13). This framework requires regular progress reports on pledges to address climate change. While the quick ratification of the Paris Agreement is a sign that the international community is eager to make progress, setting up a strong and effective transparency framework will likely require hard and sustained work for years to come.
Our new research, published today in Climate Policy, shows that the long term success of the Agreement depends on the availability of well-designed and functioning monitoring and review mechanisms. The EU has one of the most advanced climate policy monitoring systems in the world – but it still encounters persistent challenges that, crucially, could jeopardize the implementation of the Paris Agreement if these challenges persist within the EU and potentially also in other countries and regions. We show that the EU’s current approach to monitoring climate policies – largely borrowed from monitoring greenhouse gases, which is a vastly different task – has not supported in depth learning and debate on the performance of individual policies. Other important obstacles include political concerns over the costs of reporting, control, and the perceived usefulness of the information produced. The international community should therefore draw on the EU’s valuable experiences and also difficulties in monitoring climate policies in order to develop the practice further.
A vital part of the implementation of the Paris Agreement will hinge on whether political actors can muster the leadership in order to successfully navigate these monitoring challenges at the international level. Monitoring is probably the most underestimated challenge in implementing the Paris Agreement. In the past, it has been seen as a technical, data gathering task. We show that it is anything but a mere reporting exercise. Implementing more advanced monitoring at the international level will require substantial political efforts, resources, and leadership. In order to justify investments in monitoring and evaluation to the public, care needs to be taken to ensure that monitoring information is used effectively to evaluate and improve policy, rather than as a weapon to lay blame when things slip.
A key strength of the Paris Agreement is that so many countries are part of it and are willing to engage. Disengagement or even withdrawal could therefore imperil the whole Agreement and have grave ramifications for the set-up of a strong monitoring system. The EU’s experience shows that recognising the role of public policies in the NDCs should thus be seen as one step in a long journey to deeper understanding of what climate policies achieve and how policies can be improved.