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Making Progress on Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) at COP 18

The international climate deal reached in Durban, South Africa last December marked an important milestone in designing a system for measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) of countries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions-reductions efforts. In 2014, all countries will submit verifiable biennial reports with information on their GHG emissions, actions to reduce emissions, and support received or provided to other countries for emissions reductions. The Conference of the Parties (COP) also strengthened guidelines for developed countries’ (Annex I) GHG inventories, an important milestone for building trust among all countries.

Despite this progress, however, a number of outstanding issues remain. These issues will need to be resolved at COP 18 in order to ensure that there is an effective MRV system in place that tracks countries’ climate action commitments and holds them accountable.

5 Key MRV Issues that Countries Must Resolve at Doha

While COP 17 mandated revising guidelines by 2014 for developed countries’ national communications (i.e., a document submitted in accordance with the Convention and the Protocol informing other Parties of activities undertaken to address climate change), it failed to begin a similar process for developing countries, whose guidelines are similarly outdated. The Durban text also failed to establish the accounting rules required to prevent the double counting of GHG emissions, where both buyers and sellers of carbon offsets count emissions reductions toward their mitigation targets. COP 18 must build on the momentum generated in Durban to ensure a cost-effective, credible MRV and accounting framework. In particular, Parties must:

  1. Agree to a standardized format for Annex I parties to report their emissions, actions, and finance;

  2. Finalize the verification process for all countries’ biennial reports;

  3. Revise the Kyoto Protocol articles on measurement, reporting, verification, accounting, and compliance in light of the newly agreed MRV guidelines. (Note: This is a complex exercise which is not covered in this blog.)

  4. Agree to the necessary steps for development and adoption of voluntary guidelines for developing countries to perform domestic MRV on their pledged mitigation activities;

  5. Ensure adequate support is provided for developing countries to meet their MRV requirements.

Why Are MRV and Accounting So Important?

  • MRV will improve policy implementation. Parties’ success in achieving or surpassing their current emissions-reduction pledges and future commitments will depend on effective policy implementation. Through their first biennial reports and later biennial update reports, Parties will be able to communicate best practices, challenges, and lessons learned on policy implementation and deployment of international climate finance. The UNFCCC could facilitate information exchanges among countries. Government officials could then learn from their peers’ experiences, replicate successes, and support each other (financially or otherwise) when facing challenges.

  • A strong accounting framework will ensure environmental integrity. As highlighted in WRI’s joint submission with UN Environment Programme earlier this year on ways to increase ambition under the Durban platform, the absence of consistent, comparable, transparent, and accurate accounting rules for emissions would risk weakening the Cancun pledges and any commitments under the new international climate agreement to be adopted in 2015. It also could lead to “double-counting," where both buyers and sellers of carbon offsets count emissions reductions toward their mitigation targets, resulting in increased emissions of up to 1.3 GtCO2e in 2020.

  • Information ensures accountability. The UNFCCC needs more information about the diverse, pre-2020 pledges of developed and developing countries. Understanding underlying assumptions and methodologies is essential to track progress on emissions-reduction goals. Parties should ensure that developed and developing countries provide all remaining details about their pledges in a timely manner.

What Could Success on MRV and Accounting Look Like in Doha?

Success on MRV and accounting issues in Doha could involve the following actions:

1) Ensure a Robust Verification Regime

COP 18 can ensure a cost-effective, robust verification regime by finalizing and adopting the modalities for international consultation and analysis (ICA) for developing countries, only parts of which were agreed to in Durban. There are now three options on the table for how to conduct the technical analysis and how to differentiate between the verification process for Annex I and non-Annex I Parties. To ensure sustainability of the process, we need a compromise that balances manageability, adequate financial support and technical assistance, and effective use of existing institutions.

Additionally, the expansion of reporting and verification requirements to 192 countries (instead of 40 developed countries) has significant resource implications. Already, there is a scarcity of capable experts available to review Annex I countries’ biennial reports. Parties will therefore need to think creatively and pragmatically about how to scale up the human and financial resources. These issues will need to be taken into consideration when Parties revise the review guidelines of Annex I national inventories and national communications, with the goal of adopting revised guidelines by COP 19.

2) Standardize Reporting Formats

Parties in Doha are expected to adopt common reporting format tables for Annex I that enhance the transparency of reporting and accountability of developed countries’ actions.

Although a similar process to adopt standardized reporting formats for developing countries was not mandated in Durban, COP 18 is expected to agree on a process to adopt voluntary domestic MRV guidelines. These will help developing countries meet their reporting requirements both domestically and internationally. A decision could call for wider collaboration for producing guidance that could enhance institutional arrangements and governance, estimate the effects of GHG mitigation actions, and reduce the risk for double counting of GHG reductions between measures taken, policies, and carbon market projects in a sector.

3) Develop Consistent Accounting Rules

The COP could consider requesting that the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technical Advice (SBSTA) develop consistent, complete, comparable, transparent, and accurate accounting rules applicable to pre-2020 and post-2020 commitments. Such rules will be particularly important in the design of the new market-based mechanism in order to avoid double-counting and ensure offsets’ environmental integrity. The COP could also mandate that developed and developing countries provide all remaining details about their pledges in a timely manner, including through workshops, technical papers, and/or standardized formats.

COP 18 needs to finish what Parties started in Cancun and made progress on in Durban. With five parallel negotiating tracks in Doha, there is no doubt that delegations will be spread thinly. However, the fact that more than 10 MRV-related issues are up for discussion in this round of negotiations signals their importance to the international community. Transparency matters in the road for an ambitious, equitable, international climate deal. It’s critical that MRV and accounting receive the attention they deserve to prevent loopholes and ensure that countries make real progress on bridging the emissions gap.

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