How to rebuild trust at UN climate change talks?

Transparency and accountability must be at the core of any agreement in Lima and Paris, say WRI analysts

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

(Pic: UNFCCC/Flickr)

By Yamide Dagnet and Cynthia Elliot

Without trust among countries, a global climate agreement will be doomed from the start.

Transparently reporting post-2020 commitments – along with their underlying assumptions and methods – will be an important ingredient to building confidence by helping countries understand what others say they will do to shift to a low carbon economy.

However, countries will need to do more than just “show and tell” at the Paris climate summit next year. To achieve a successful outcome, countries need to be held accountable for doing what they say.

Three accountability measures, which are standard practice in existing multilateral environmental agreements,  should underpin an international climate agreement:

  • Guiding principles and rules that preserve the environmental integrity of commitments
  • An assessment of the quality of information and scale of actions made by individual countries
  • A facilitative instrument to support compliance and effective implementation of the 2015 agreement 

Confidence and trust 

Country negotiators are now wrangling over the elements of a deal that is both sufficiently ambitious and politically palatable.

To unlock progress at this year’s climate summit in Lima and beyond, transparency and accountability must be at the core of both the agreement and countries’ post-2020 targets supporting it.

So how should negotiators embed transparency and accountability into their actions in Lima? Here are three ways:

1 – Ensure the information in countries’ post-2020 targets is clear and trustworthy, so that it can be aggregated with other actions to assess the world’s overall ambition.

Sharing the same type of information avoids confusion, uncertainty and double counting – all ingredients for breeding mistrust. 

2 – Assess countries’ contributions ahead of the Paris climate summit. Countries will start submitting their pledges in March 2015, perhaps even sooner.

Between then and December the UN’s climate body (UNFCCC) should at least compile all contributions and summarize the outcome into a single document for countries.

It should also create an online platform open to the public to foster discussion and analysis of countries’ intended targets — there are precedents for such an online forum and in Lima negotiators could agree on a framework for this.

These efforts would help facilitate a multilateral discussion among countries and wider stakeholders.

3 – Establish provisions that build trust, including a clear recognition of the differences between countries’ capabilities and circumstances.

A new paper by the ACT 2015 initiative suggests the following approaches to address transparency while taking these concerns into account:

-In Paris, countries should agree to a timetable and a work program to unify the current system which lays out separate requirements for developed and developing countries into a common framework. Countries should aim to provide the most consistent, transparent, and accurate data but their requirements would vary based upon individual capabilities and would change as capabilities improve. Countries with limited capabilities should receive support to improve the quality of their data and increase the level of their ambition.

-Between 2015 and 2020, countries should revise existing guidelines, develop rules and guidance to track progress towards climate goals, and test these new requirements. After 2020, countries should regularly review and update the guidelines to improve them over time.

-Between 2015 and 2020, countries should commit to create a more sustainable capacity building framework that will help countries accumulate the necessary labor and financial resources to achieve ambitious climate-responsible outcomes.

-Countries should agree to include an implementation mechanism that encourages and facilitates compliance in the global agreement next December. 

Embedding strong transparency and accountability requirements in the global agreement are a key to success.

Unless stakeholders perceive transparency provisions as fair and support continues to improve, broader negotiations will stall.

But “showing and telling” alone is not enough. Improving both transparency and accountability is necessary to create the conditions for securing a binding, ambitious, and fair climate agreement.

Yamide Dagnet is a Senior Associate at WRI whose research focuses on the design of the 2015 climate agreement including its architecture, mitigation, and MRV. Contact: [email protected]

Cynthia Elliot is a Research Assistant at WRI and contributes to the ACT2015 initiative which is developing a proposal for the design of a new international climate agreement. Contact: [email protected]

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