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Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV): The Task at Hand at COP17 Durban

You can’t manage what you can’t measure. This is one reason it is important to track countries’ individual and aggregate progress in reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Next week, COP17 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Durban will mark an essential milestone in the design of an effective system to “measure, report, and verify” countries’ emissions, commitments, and actions. Known as “MRV,” this is one of the fundamental issues to watch in the negotiations. Why is MRV important? What is the current state of play in the negotiations? What can we expect in Durban? These questions are answered below. In a separate post we also discuss how, in designing this reporting and review framework, negotiators can draw on the lessons learned in other international regimes.

MRV: A fundamental pillar of the climate regime

In a broad sense, MRV can help assess the world’s progress toward limiting the increase in global temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius (the goal agreed to at COP16 Cancun) compared to pre-industrial levels. It can also promote trust that all countries are doing what they said they would do. In addition, such a system to report and review actions can facilitate learning and implementation by identifying which policies work, which don’t, and what type of support developing countries need in order to develop and implement climate programs.

Bigger political questions, such as legal form or finance, may make the media headlines, but it is also of prime importance that COP17 deliver tangible progress on the technical issue of MRV. Last year’s Cancun Agreements marked an important step in the right direction by offering the broad frame for this improved system. Durban should now fill in the fine but essential details that will make this framework operational.

State of play and expectations for Durban on MRV

Specifically, there are eight elements on MRV that should be agreed to in Durban:

1. Guidelines for biennial reports

The Cancun Agreements state that developed and developing countries should produce several types of national reports on their emissions, commitments, and actions. Among them, national communications are to be submitted to the UNFCCC every four years. In addition, Parties are required to submit reports every two years that will contain only a sub-set of the information contained in national communications. Parties are scheduled to adopt detailed guidelines for these so-called biennial reports specifying, among other elements, when the first reports are due, how mitigation actions should be reported, and what methodologies should be used to produce GHG inventory reports. Negotiators should work quickly to adopt these guidelines in Durban. This is urgent in part because timely and comparable reports from developed and developing countries are needed for the first periodic review that will begin in 2013 (see below).

2. Guidelines for review procedures

Countries’ biennial reports will be subject to some form of review. At COP16, Parties decided to establish a process of international assessment and review (IAR) and international consultations and analysis (ICA) for developed and developing countries respectively. Here again, Parties should fill in the details in Durban to make these review processes operational. For example, they will need to determine how frequently biennial reports will be reviewed, which additional documents should be used as inputs for the review, and what the output and follow-up steps will be from these review processes. One point of divergence amongst Parties is whether some countries – for the sake of efficiency and to respond to the capacity constraints of developing countries –should participate in the review more frequently than others, based, for example, on their share of global GHG emissions. One can also expect debates in Durban over whether these review processes will take place behind closed doors or whether stakeholders (e.g., businesses, international organizations, NGOs) will be allowed to observe and contribute.

3. Additional support to developing countries for MRV

In accordance with the Convention under Articles 4.3 and 12.7, developing countries are entitled to financial support from developed countries for the purposes of reporting their GHG emissions and actions. This commitment was reiterated in the Cancun Agreements and will likely be part of the Durban package as well. Going a step beyond Cancun, COP17 could specify which support channels are available to developing countries and what steps relevant bilateral and multilateral institutions will take to address the additional needs of developing countries as a result of the enhanced reporting and review framework under the UNFCCC.

4. Modalities of the first periodic review between 2013 and 2015

Are we on track to keep global average temperature rise below the 2-degree Celsius limit set in Cancun? Is 2 degrees C even the right temperature limit, or should it be 1.5 degrees? Those questions should be answered by the periodic review defined in section V of the Cancun Agreements. The first of these reviews will take place between 2013 and 2015. Time is of the essence and Durban should be the COP where countries agree to the procedures for this review so that its preparations can begin in 2012. One of the outstanding questions is who will conduct the review. Various options have been put forward, including relying on the UNFCCC Secretariat or creating a separate group of experts.(For more information on the periodic review, see Edward Cameron's piece.)

5. A reporting template for climate finance

Until recently, WRI analysis has found that the information reported by developed countries on the financial support they provide to developing countries has lacked transparency, comparability, and completeness. This has made it hard for recipient countries to trust the information. COP16 took a good step toward building such trust by agreeing that going forward, information on climate finance would be reported by developed countries using a “common reporting format.”

Negotiators in Durban should agree on the exact format and decide that it must be used by developed countries in their biennial reports as well as their national communications. In addition, the Cancun Agreements call for developing countries to report on the financial support they receive. One of the outstanding questions is whether developing countries should use a template similar to the one used by developed countries in order to facilitate comparisons and cross-checking of the data.

6. Steps to make the NAMAs registry operational

Countries agreed in Cancun to set up a registry to record developing countries’ “nationally appropriate mitigation actions” for which they seek international support, and to facilitate matching of finance, technology, and capacity-building with these actions. In Durban, a decision should better specify the registry’s operations, including what information developing countries should provide about their mitigation actions, the registry’s form (e.g., a web-based platform), and the information that donors should communicate to the registry to facilitate the matching of actions with support. One of the outstanding questions here is how “active” the registry will be in matching actions with support. Some see it as an information platform while others believe it should be closely related to the Green Climate Fund to allocate funding.

7. A process to clarify countries’ mitigation pledges

The pledges made by developed and developing countries in Copenhagen and Cancun are framed in general terms that leave many questions unanswered. For example, it is not clear in which sectors of their economies countries commit to reducing emissions, which greenhouse gases they take into account, or whether they intend to resort to international offsets. Some developing pledges are articulated in the form of a reduction compared to a business-as-usual scenario, but little information is provided about their projections. Without the answer to these questions, it will not be possible to conduct accurate assessments of country-level and aggregate progress or generate trust among Parties that all countries are doing what they said they would do. A decision in Durban needs to request countries to answer these outstanding questions as soon as possible after COP17, for example through a questionnaire.

8. A workplan to address the remaining issues

The list above is ambitious, but necessary. Beyond these items, other elements related to MRV will still need to be agreed to by Parties in the years ahead. COP17 should acknowledge them as outstanding and set a timeframe for addressing them. These items would include revising guidelines for the national communications of developed and developing countries, a set date for revising the new biennial report guidelines based on lessons learned, and a process for developing common rules to track emission reductions in countries, including robust accounting rules for Annex I Parties, to obtain clarity on countries’ pledges, and assess progress toward fulfilling them.

In sum, MRV is a top item for COP17 in its own right. It is important that progress across the eight elements highlighted above is achieved. The success of Durban will be based in no small part on negotiators’ ability to deliver the fine technical details of a transparent and robust MRV framework.

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