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Transparency and Accountability (MRV) in the Durban Climate Deal

The Durban climate deal reached in December 2011 marked an important milestone in the design of a system to measure, report, and verify (MRV) countries’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and their actions to reduce them. The deal succeeded in making the MRV system operational. However, the text still falls short on several important issues that WRI outlined before the meeting. In this post, we review the main MRV elements of the Durban deal.

What does MRV mean and why does it matter?

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. A fundamental issue in the climate negotiations has been the design of an effective system to “measure, report, and verify” countries’ emissions, commitments, and actions. This process is known as MRV. MRV procedures are an essential cornerstone of the climate regime for several reasons – they can help build trust among countries and are essential to track progress towards country-specific and collective climate goals.

In Durban, Parties needed to achieve twin objectives: making the MRV system adopted in Cancun in December 2010 operational, and ensuring that its provisions are rigorous. Specifically, the talks focused on eight elements including reporting, review, accounting, and clarifying the details behind countries’ GHG mitigation pledges.

What was achieved in Durban on reporting and review, and where did the agreement fall short?

In Durban, Parties agreed to a detailed process for countries to produce regular reports on their GHG emissions and actions, and a process for those reports to be reviewed:

  • Developed countries must submit biennial reports starting in January 2014. These reports will include information on GHG emissions, progress in implementing the country’s quantified economy-wide emission reduction target, projected emissions for 2020 and 2030, and the provision of financial, technological, and other support to developing countries.
  • The COP revised and strengthened guidelines for the GHG inventories of Annex I Parties, based on the 2006 IPCC Guidelines. The COP decided to use global warming potential values (GWPs) from the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report and agreed to systematically report on an additional gas: nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), which is most commonly emitted during the production of semiconductors, photovoltaic solar cells, and LCD screens.
  • Developing countries must submit biennial update reports starting in December 2014. These reports will include a national GHG inventory report; information on mitigation actions and their effects, including methodologies, assumptions, and descriptions of domestic MRV processes; and information on support needed and received.
  • Developed countries’ biennial reports will be reviewed every two years through a process of International Assessment and Review (IAR) composed of two steps: a technical review by experts and a multilateral assessment under the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) involving all Parties.
  • Developing countries’ biennial update reports will be reviewed through a process of International Consultations and Analysis (ICA) composed of two steps: a technical analysis by a team of technical experts in consultation with the Party concerned and a facilitative sharing of views under the SBI open to all Parties.
  • The text includes time-bound provisions for revising the IAR and ICA processes, based on the first round of reviews and no later than 2016 and 2017 respectively.

The MRV text specifies some issues to be completed in the future:

  • By COP18 in 2012, Parties will need to agree to the tables they will use to report actions and finance.
  • The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) was also tasked with developing general guidelines for developing countries to perform domestic MRV on their pledged mitigation activities.
  • Developed countries also committed to increasing support to developing countries for MRV.

There are other issues that the Durban text did not resolve:

  • While the COP agreed to revise the guidelines for developed countries’ national communications by COP20, it failed to begin a similar process for developing countries, whose guidelines are similarly outdated.
  • There are no clear provisions to make the IAR and ICA processes public by allowing observers to attend or contribute to the meetings. This will likely reduce the level of public interest in countries’ reports and diminish the “name and shame” effect of these reviews.

How does the Durban text help clarify countries’ GHG mitigation pledges?

The pledges that countries made 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, or, for those countries that have put forward deviations from business-as-usual goals, what information they are using as the basis of their projections. The Durban negotiations made some progress on “clarification” of these pledges but the outcome still falls short of what is needed to track individual country goals and collective progress towards the overall goal of keeping global temperatures from rising by more than 2°C.

  • The final text established that Annex I Parties will submit information about their economy-wide emission reduction targets in a common template to clarify specific categories such as the base year, coverage of gases, coverage of sectors, and expected emission reductions.
  • The UNFCCC Secretariat will convene a workshop and update a technical paper on these emissions reduction targets.
  • Developing countries, on the other hand, are not required to clarify their pledges in a template like Annex I Parties. In fact, the text simply "invites," rather than requires, non-Annex I Parties to submit further information on their actions. Therefore, it is possible that information will not be forthcoming, and therefore it will be difficult to track progress towards pledges and assess overall global emissions reductions.
  • Workshops will continue in an effort to understand the diversity of developing country actions.
  • It remains unclear whether the information provided on the pledges will lock countries into such assumptions. For example, if a country states that it does not use offsets, can it not use offsets at a future date? The lack of clear procedures for updates regarding details and assumptions underlying pledges is problematic. It could lead to countries updating their assumptions and conditions in a non-transparent way and without justification (for example, adjust accounting methodologies to paint a more favorable picture of their emission reductions).

The Durban text does not establish common accounting rules for greenhouse gas emissions. What are the consequences of this?

Accounting methodologies are used to assess the emissions reductions or enhanced removals associated with a target or action. The Copenhagen Accord stated that the COP “will ensure that accounting [of Annex I quantified economy-wide emissions targets] is rigorous, robust, and transparent.” Yet the Durban deal does not include an agreement on such accounting rules under the COP.

The final Durban text simply “acknowledges the value of ex ante information, and the need to elaborate rigorous, robust and transparent approaches” for developed countries’ targets. It does not create a mandate for the development of accounting rules. Neither does it launch a process to develop assessment methodologies for developing countries. Without accounting rules, it will be very difficult to aggregate emissions reductions globally, ensure quality in the carbon market, and assess comparability of effort across Parties. This can be viewed as a significant shortcoming of the Durban agreement.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was extended into a second commitment period, does include accounting rules that can guide the development of similar rules under the Convention applicable to all Parties. In Durban, Parties to the Protocol came to agreement on initial revised accounting rules for LULUCF, expanded covered greenhouse gases to include nitrogen fluoride (NF3) and common metrics to estimate the Global Warming Potential (GWPs) of such gases.

What are the overall takeaways from Durban on MRV?

The Durban text provided a much-needed process to help countries report on their mitigation efforts frequently and in detail. However, the clarification provisions for non-Annex I Parties are not sufficiently detailed. The absence of common accounting rules severely limits the ability to compare and add up countries’ emissions reductions, as well as feed necessary information into the Periodic Review, which is meant to assess the overall effect of Parties’ efforts.

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