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Q&A: Transparency in the Cancun Agreements

Last month’s international climate negotiations in Cancun showed progress on many fronts, especially in ensuring greater transparency in countries’ emissions reporting.

The Cancun Agreements create a new standard for transparency in which all major economies will report on progress towards achieving their climate targets and actions, and will submit their progress to a review.

These transparency provisions build extensively on existing provisions from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. The new transparency mandates could open up important new information on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the globe.

While the Cancun Agreements outline the major transparency requirements, the success of these provisions will depend on the design and operationalization of these components in the coming months.

What are the new transparency provisions in the Cancun Agreements?

New provisions for developed countries that did not exist under previous UNFCCC agreements include the development of common reporting formats for national communications, more frequent reporting with the submission of biennial reports, and to the adoption of a process under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation1 of “international assessment” to assess emissions and removals associated with targets.

Developing countries are also subject to new transparency provisions in the Cancun Agreements, including more frequent reporting through biennial reports, which will be submitted to International Consultation and Analysis (ICA). They are also requested to register mitigation actions seeking support in a newly formed “registry.”

The Cancun Agreements also established workshops, convened under the UNFCCC, for the exploration of all countries’ assumptions underlying targets and actions. (See Table 1 for more information.)

Are these a departure from existing provisions?

Not entirely. These new provisions build on tools, such as national communications and greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, which are already being enhanced through discussions under the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (see FCCC/SBI/2010/L.36/Add.1). Furthermore, given the important role of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation outlined in Cancun Agreements, it is likely that the review system will largely draw from existing structures.

How will the new transparency processes help us understand Parties’ mitigation pledges?

These provisions will prove useful at both the national and international level. If implemented, the quality, timeliness and reliability of information available on both developed and developing country pledges will significantly improve. The improvements could contribute to a greater level of trust among countries in the international climate arena and a better ability to share lessons learned. These provisions would also provide a framework within which countries can track progress against their domestic climate and energy policies.

If implementation is successful, the quality, timeliness and reliability of information available on both developed and developing country pledges will significantly improve.

Additionally, the Cancun Agreements establish workshops to clarify both developed and developing country targets and actions. These will be critical to any assessment of emissions reductions achieved post-2012. Developed countries will be required to share assumptions underlying their targets regarding the use of market-based mechanisms (e.g. offsets) and land use, land-use change and forestry. Developing country workshops will focus on sharing assumptions underlying the diversity of actions submitted, as well as the amount of support necessary to implement these actions.

The Cancun Agreements also provide a process to develop accounting rules for tracking developed country performance towards meeting targets, by way of an international assessment of emissions and reductions associated with Parties submitted targets (para 44). If these rules are developed in a manner that ensures accounting is comparable, consistent, transparent, complete and accurate, then the worst implications of unharmonized accounting rules could be avoided.

Lastly, the Agreements’ scientific review provisions require an assessment of aggregate global emissions reductions, and whether or not they will achieve long-term temperature goals. This will be critical to understanding whether and if additional emissions reductions are required, and will serve as a basis for increasing the ambition of Parties’ future commitments.

How do the Cancun Agreements address the capacity gap in some countries in terms of reporting?

The implementation of these new reporting provisions will require enhanced capacity at the national level in many countries, and for this reason some of the requirements for reporting differ according to a country’s level of development. Some examples:

  • In terms of the content of reporting, developed countries report on progress towards achieving their mitigation targets and emissions reductions achieved, while developing countries report on their mitigation actions and their effects. The precise differences in terms of reporting are unclear and will likely have to be discussed among Parties. Least developed countries and small island developing states will also be given additional flexibility in the frequency and content of their reporting.

  • While the frequency of reporting on national communications and GHGs will likely still warrant some discussion, the Cancun Agreements specify that the frequency of developing country national communications will not be more onerous than that of developed countries, and will take into account developing country needs for financial support to strengthen reporting capacities. Both developed and developing countries, however, will submit information through the same tool - biennial update reports.

  • On the review of reported information, there are some differences for different countries. For developed countries there will continue to be a review of the progress they make towards achieving their targets (including providing climate finance) and their emissions reductions. For developing countries there will be a review of the domestic measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of unsupported actions and their effects and the international MRV of their actions which receive international support.

What is the registry agreed to in Cancun?

The Cancun Agreements create a registry in which the UNFCCC Secretariat will record developing country actions that seek international support, as well as support available and provided from developed countries. This will help match actions with the financial and technical support they need. A separate section of the registry will house the actions submitted to the Conference of the Parties (COP) by developing countries, regardless of support sought or received.

The Agreements remain unclear on the operational details and structure of the registry. For example, the text does not say how the matching of actions to support will take place, nor does it specific the relation of the registry to the financial mechanism. The frequency of recording actions in the registry is also unclear, as well as the relation of the actions seeking support to the separate section of the registry that records all actions.

What are the next steps?

The UNFCCC Parties have set themselves an arduous task for the coming months in the form of a ‘work programme’ outlined in the Cancun Agreements. This requires the “enhancement” of the existing rules around national communications, inventories and the review systems. Parties will need to agree on “modalities and procedures for international assessment and review of emissions and removals related to quantified economy-wide emission reductions targets” submitted by developed countries. In other words, a process to develop accounting rules for developed countries’ emissions reductions and enhanced sinks will be launched. Parties will also need to agree on provisions for developing countries’ reporting. It is likely that much time will be spent on: the creation of a registry; modalities and guidelines for the measurement, reporting and verification of supported actions; details in the biennial reports; domestic verification of mitigation actions; and on the specifics of International Consultation and Analysis, and other review provisions.

Table 1. Transparency Provisions in the Cancun Agreements
Annex INon-Annex I
Nature of pledgeQuantified economy-wide emissions reduction targets.Nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building, aimed at achieving a deviation in emissions relative to "business as usual" emissions in 2020.
Provisions for planningLow-carbon development strategies or plans.Non-Annex I countries are also encouraged to develop low-carbon development strategies or plans in the context of sustainable development.
Recording of pledgeEmissions reduction targets to be contained in document FCCC/LCA/AWG/2010/INF.X.NAMAs to be contained in document FCCC/LCA/AWG/2010/INF.Y and recorded in a separate section of the registry.
Clarification of pledgeThe Secretariat will “organize workshops to clarify the assumptions and the conditions related to the attainment of these targets” and means for increasing ambition. Additionally, the Secretariat is to “prepare a technical paper based on Parties’ submissions” with the aim of facilitating understanding about such assumptions and conditions related to attainment of targets.Requests the Secretariat to “organize workshops, to understand the diversity of mitigation actions submitted, underlying assumptions, and support needed.”
ReportingBiennial reports on their progress in achieving emission reductions, including information on mitigation actions to achieve their quantified economy-wide emissions targets and emission reductions achieved, projected emissions and on the provision of financial, technology and capacity building support to developing country parties.Biennial reports, containing updates of national greenhouse gas inventories including a national inventory report and information on mitigation actions, needs and support received.
Enhanced guidelines for national communications, including common reporting formats.Enhance reporting in national communications, including inventories, on mitigation actions and their effects, and support received; with additional flexibility given to the least developed countries and small island developing states.
A registry to record NAMAs seeking support, and to facilitate the matching of support to these actions.
Non-Annex I Parties should submit their national communications every four years.
ReviewEnhance guidelines for the review of national communications.Internationally supported mitigation actions will be domestically measured, reported and verified (MRV) and subject to international MRV in accordance with guidelines developed under the Convention, while domestically supported mitigation actions will be measured, reported and verified domestically.
A process for international assessment of emissions and removals related to quantified economy-wide emission reductions targets in the Subsidiary Body for Implementation.Biennial reports are subject to international consultations and analysis by the Subsidiary Body for Implementation. They aim to increase transparency about mitigation actions and their effects, through analysis by technical experts in consultation with the country concerned, and through a facilitative sharing of views, and will result in a summary report.
Revised guidelines for the review of national communications, including the biennial report, annual greenhouse gas inventories and national inventory systems.Information considered should include information on mitigation actions, the national GHG inventory report, progress in implementation and information on domestic MRV and support received.
Work programmeDecides on a work programme for the development of modalities and guidelines described above. Invites Parties to submit views on the work programme by March 28, 2011.Same.

  1. The Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) is one of two permanent subsidiary bodies established by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The SBI makes recommendations on policy and implementation issues to the Conference of the Parties (COP). For example, the SBI reviews the information in the National Communications and inventories submitted by Parties to the UNFCCC to assess the Convention’s overall effectiveness. 

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