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Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) at COP17 Durban: Five Lessons from Other Regimes

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. While both the climate challenge and the UNFCCC have unique attributes, negotiators can learn from experiences in other international regimes1, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), that are applicable to the UNFCCC.

Here are five key lessons for the international climate regime:

Lesson 1: Make information public to enhance transparency

Most international reporting and review processes follow several steps, including submission of country reports, technical analysis by international experts, and a consultative exchange of views among governments. Several regimes, including the WTO's Trade Policy Review Mechanism (TPRM) and the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), make these reports, analysis, and exchange of views publicly available online. This enhanced transparency is essential for an effective process and is recognized by the UNFCCC2 and international law more generally as an important principle.3

For climate negotiators, this suggests that the various outputs of the so-called international assessment and review (IAR) and international consultations and analysis (ICA) should be posted online and publicly available.

Lesson 2: Use stakeholder input to get the full picture

International review mechanisms rely primarily on information provided by the government of the country being reviewed. However, stakeholders such as civil society organizations, businesses, and international organizations often have significant scientific and technical expertise and can provide an independent perspective. Thus many regimes use complementary information from stakeholders to get a more complete picture of a country’s actions.

For example, the Human Rights Council's UPR is recognized as international best practice in stakeholder participation. The UPR formally invites civil society perspectives, while governments still retain control of the process. Three reports form the basis for an exchange of views among states in the UPR working group: a country report from the government, a compilation of information from various UN bodies, and a compilation of input from national and regional human rights bodies and civil society groups. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights summarizes this information, but does not comment on it, treating all civil society voices equally. In addition, civil society observers may take the floor in the HRC meeting that considers the UPR findings.

Climate negotiators could provide similar opportunities for written stakeholder submissions in the IAR and ICA processes. Stakeholders could also be given an opportunity to ask questions either in writing or in person during the meetings where the reports of countries are discussed.

Lesson 3: Find the right balance between effectiveness and efficiency

International reporting and review processes involving many countries can be quite costly and time consuming for all sides. Factors that will influence MRV costs under the UNFCCC will vary and likely include the scope of country reports, the frequency of reviews, where reviews take place, and how long they last. Of course, virtually all of these could be reduced. But the key is to strike a balanced approach that does not impair the goals of the review process.

For example, while the UPR does not rely on country visits and limits the length of consultation meetings to three hours, it happens relatively frequently and allows many independent sources to be taken into account. On the other hand, the OECD’s Environmental Performance Review only takes place every 8-9 years, but is a very detailed review with several meetings, many sources, and an in-country visit. In an effort to increase efficiency without undermining effectiveness, the WTO’s TPRM reviews countries that account for a larger share of world trade more frequently.

Climate negotiators, as they strive to minimize costs, should thus ensure that any limitation on MRV scope, frequency, or inputs is balanced by more rigorous provisions for the other elements to ensure the integrity of the regime. They might also consider a more frequent review of bigger economies that account for a larger share of global emissions, given that those reviews will be most important to gain a good understanding of global GHG emissions and progress toward addressing climate change.

Lesson 4: Build capacity and allow countries to learn

Review processes are a continuous learning exercise. By preparing their own reports, responding to reviewers’ questions, and discussing other countries' submissions, countries can learn a lot about effective policies and improve their reporting practices. Experience from the UNFCCC shows that developed countries, through learning by doing, have gradually improved the quality of their GHG inventories and national communications. Developing countries will also learn along the way and often need capacity and financial support to participate in the review process. Both the WTO and the HRC provide access to dedicated funds for developing countries to financially support a) preparation of the necessary reports, b) participation of their representatives in the review process, and c) implementation of resulting recommendations.

In the climate regime, increased financial and capacity-building support should address the capacity needs of developing countries as they implement the enhanced MRV system that will likely be adopted in Durban. Developed countries could specify what channels and instruments will be available, building on the support already provided by the Global Environment Facility, other multilateral institutions, and bilateral donors.

Lesson 5: Allow for institutional learning

The reports of countries can improve over time, as can the process itself. For example, the modalities for UNFCCC reviews for Annex I Parties have been revised several times. Similarly, the WTO broadened the scope of its review mechanism in 1995. After two full rounds of review, the OECD has decided to allow for deeper analysis for its third review cycle, which will include specific focus areas for each review that are determined by the country under review. In short, the regime can learn and adapt over time to become more effective. To allow for that to happen, international regimes often have provisions that call for regular review of procedures and allow for adjustments based on lessons learned.

Climate negotiators could facilitate such learning by agreeing in Durban on a specific future date upon which the new guidelines will be revised to incorporate lessons learned.


The key questions faced by negotiators in Durban are similar to those faced by diplomats in other regimes. For example: Who should participate in the review process? What information should be considered? How frequently should country reports be reviewed? How can we encourage countries to improve their performance and reports over time? As negotiators answer such questions for the UNFCCC at COP17, they have an opportunity to apply lessons learned from other regimes.

  1. For additional overviews of review procedures in other regimes, see e.g. Ellis, Jane et. al. (2011). Design Options for International Assessment and Review and International Consultations and Analysis. Paris: OECD. And Pew Center, MRV: A Survey of Reporting and Review in Multilateral Regimes. Available at: ↩︎

  2. See, e.g. UNFCCC, Art. 6(a) (ii) and (iii); UNFCCC, Art. 7.6; Decision 1/CP.16 paragraph 7 ↩︎

  3. See, e.g., UN Conference on Environment and Development, Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, principle. 10; Agenda 21, section III; United Nations Environment Programme. 2010. Guidelines for Participation of Major Groups and Stakeholders in Policy Design. Nairobi: UNEP; UN Economic Commission for Europe, Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters, arts. 6-8; Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the relationship between climate change and human rights (Jan. 15, 2009), U.N. Doc. A/HRC/10/61, at 79, available at (“[Public p]articipation in decision-making is of key importance in efforts to tackle climate change.”). ↩︎

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