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Though forests play an essential role in international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the development of systems to monitor deforestation and forest degradation has been slow. This is due to the demanding technical requirements and the large capacity gaps in many countries. Measuring and monitoring change on the ground and via satellite in a consistent way is no easy task.

Countries need to develop national measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV) systems to monitor progress towards achieving REDD+ goals. Establishing procedures to do so would be a significant outcome of the UN climate negotiations in Durban. This task falls to the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

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.

At the United Nations climate conference (COP17) in Durban, delegates will negotiate detailed decisions on measurement, reporting, and verification (MRV). In another post, we review the importance of MRV and the main decisions facing negotiators in Durban. As negotiators for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) consider new MRV mechanisms, they may not need to reinvent the wheel.

The thousands of delegates preparing to descend on Durban for COP17 should read Robert F. Kennedy’s famous “Day of Affirmation” speech en route. They will discover a call to action as powerful today as it was almost half a century ago. They will also find sensible guidance on how to overcome the sense of drift that has gripped the climate negotiations for much of this past year. If they heed his call they may discover that African soils are not for burying the climate regime as some pessimists suggest, but rather for growing the seeds of its future success.

If one thinks of the ongoing climate negotiations as a paint-by-numbers picture, the Cancun Agreements outlined what to paint and the basic colors to use. In last week’s Panama talks, Parties continued painting with various hues that, once complete, will hopefully create a detailed and beautiful picture. The painting does not yet have a frame, however, as the Parties still have to decide on what kind of “agreed outcome” the negotiations are leading to – i.e., a legally binding agreement or a non-binding one. At the same time the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period ends in 2012, which adds complexity but also opportunity to the picture.

The UNFCCC Cancun Agreements of December 2010 marked an important step forward for transparency of country actions to respond to climate change. In addition to creating a new standard for the way countries report on their national climate commitments and actions, the agreements mandated advances in the reporting and review of countries’ climate finance contributions.


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