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From Paris Agreement to Paris Declaration: Open Government’s Climate Action Role

Severe heat waves, droughts and catastrophic flooding – exacerbated by a changing climate – have wreaked havoc on Pakistan’s agricultural sector, which employs almost half of the country’s population. Small-scale farmers like Asghar Leghari often bear the brunt of such devastating climate impacts, but few do what Leghari did: he sued the Pakistani government for failing to implement its 2012 National Climate Change Policy. And despite widespread corruption that often weakens citizens’ ability to bring officials to account, Leghari won.

Judge Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, who heard the case, ordered government ministers to explain their inaction in court, and within a month, Shah established a Climate Change Commission to advance the adaptation policies that the Pakistani government had promised to put in place.

Just one year after this historic case, Pakistan announced its intention to join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) at its December 7-9 Global Summit. Pakistani ministers joined heads of state, government officials and civil society leaders in Paris to discuss the future of open government: how it can propel sustainable development forward and help countries achieve the Paris Agreement’s goals.

The OGP Global Summit 2016 offered three key messages:

1. Global threats to democracy may jeopardize the success of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement depends on international cooperation and a mutual trust that member countries will prioritize global needs over national self-interest. To build this shared confidence, nations must demonstrate ambition in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), establish credibility in their efforts at climate action, meet climate finance commitments, improve transparency and reporting, and collaborate on technology transfer and knowledge sharing. But the rise of populist nationalism, particularly when combined with some politicians’ disregard for climate science, could undermine this trust and discourage international cooperation.

Beyond international collaboration, effective implementation of the Paris Agreement requires participation by a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society groups, to ensure justice and equity in national climate policies. Yet over 100 countries have moved to close civic space in the last year, and at least 60 governments (including Pakistan’s) have passed laws that constrain or criminalize civil society activities, particularly those voicing dissent. Failure to include the public in decision-making while limiting transparency and infringing on civil liberties undermines citizens’ ability to hold their governments accountable and can build in inequality.

2. Climate and open government leaders see the value of collaboration.

Just before the OGP Summit, over 100 open government and climate civil society leaders attended the Global Gathering on Open Government for Climate Action, which brought together an uncommon mix of technical, policy, legal and economic experts. After two productive days, participants agreed on the next steps to take:

  • Climate organizations based in OGP member countries committed to drive national climate commitments by participating in OGP planning processes;

  • Open data advocates and climate data experts need to work together to make climate data more available to those who need it;

  • Civil society organizations need to be able to track and participate in climate finance decisions, as groups including Grupo de Financiamiento Climático para América Latina y el Caribe, the Adaptation Finance Accountability Initiative and Adaptation Watch are already doing;

  • Renewable energy decision-making should be inclusive and democratic to ensure that the impacts are equitable.

3. Governments and civil society organizations are using the open government space to promote democratic climate action in their countries.

When countries like Pakistan join OGP, they commit to promoting participatory political processes, improving transparency and access to open data, and strengthening accountability laws in public two-year National Action Plans (NAPs). The Paris Declaration, formally launched at the OGP Summit, provides tools that countries can use to put these plans into practice. And by including three climate-specific collective actions, the Declaration connects open government reforms to the Paris Agreement.

  • Include the most marginalized people – who are often the most at risk -- in decisions on national and subnational plans for climate action and sustainable development.

  • Track climate-relevant policy implementation and results.

  • Harness the data revolution for sustainable development and climate resilience.

Momentum to leverage open government reforms to tackle these political obstacles and combat climate change is growing. In just one year, the number of countries that have included climate goals in their NAPs increased from three to nine. At the OGP Summit, several governments and civil society organizations formed an Open Climate Working Group, which will provide a space for stakeholders to continue building capacity and sharing good practices.

The Paris Agreement is only as strong as the national commitments of the 195 countries that have pledged to realize it. Joining OGP and committing to advancing open government reforms are important first steps for climate-vulnerable countries like Pakistan. Not only does this help nations overcome political barriers to climate progress, but it also provides officials with an opportunity to rebuild public trust in government through inclusive, transparent and accountable action.

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