This is a historic year for climate action as nations around the world prepare commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In order to be successful, governments must have an abundance of a particularly valuable resource—emissions data.

Governments can get granular data on emissions through mandatory GHG reporting programs, which can enhance their understanding of specific emissions sources within each sector and create effective policies to reduce them. So far, at least 40 countries, as well as several sub-national regions, have implemented such programs. Today, the Partnership for Market Readiness (PMR) and WRI released the report Guide for Designing Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Reporting Programs, which provides step-by-step guidance on developing and implementing such programs.

The new guide lays out the steps governments can take to create mandatory reporting programs in their own countries. But first, here’s some basic information on mandatory emissions reporting programs around the world:

1) What Is a Mandatory Emissions Reporting Program?

Generally, these programs require facilities and/or companies that emit over a certain amount of greenhouse gas emissions to measure and report their emissions on a recurring basis. This steady stream of information creates a rich pool of data, which allows policymakers to better understand greenhouse gas emissions sources and trends.

2) How Are Mandatory GHG Reporting Programs Used?

GHG reporting programs can serve many purposes, such as:

  • Data from mandatory reporting programs can inform overall country policy. For example, annual GHG data collected through the Australian reporting program is the basis of emissions projections to inform climate change policy. The program also collects data on energy production and consumption, which informs energy efficiency policy development.

  • By understanding individual sources of emissions, policymakers are better equipped to set realistic, source-specific GHG-reduction strategies. Governments pursuing mitigation in specific sectors—such as power generation or cement manufacturing—may use reported data from individual facilities to assess which technologies are more effective in reducing emissions. They can also use sector-wide data to evaluate levels of emissions and establish mitigation targets accordingly.

  • GHG reporting programs also support emissions-trading schemes by providing reporters with a uniform methodology to calculate, report, monitor and verify emissions. This is essential to building trust in carbon markets, which depend on reliable data for their smooth and efficient functioning.

  • Emissions disclosure by businesses under mandatory reporting programs can lead to regular tracking of emissions and benchmarking. These programs enable industries to understand their emissions-related risks and opportunities so they can efficiently focus on mitigation activities that will produce the greatest GHG reductions.

3) Who Is Using Mandatory Emissions Reporting Programs?

At least 40 countries—both developed and developing—currently have mandatory emissions reporting programs in place. There are also a handful of sub-national programs, such as California’s Mandatory GHG Reporting Program. Some countries are also currently testing mandatory emissions reporting at the local scale and considering implementing it at the national scale, such as in China.

Moving forward, we can expect to see many more nations adopt mandatory emissions reporting programs to systematically measure and monitor their emissions. They can use the data to inform policies and develop and assess progress towards national and sectoral goals.

4) How Can Countries Design GHG Reporting Programs?

The new report draws upon the experiences of many mandatory GHG reporting programs to compile best practices, so that governments planning similar programs have a ready resource to consult. They can reflect on lessons learnt from existing programs discussed in the report instead of beginning from scratch.

The report highlights different factors that policymakers should consider when making decisions related to program design, for example, determining who will report emissions and what they will report. Further, it provides guidance on how to make these choices in order to develop a program that is well-aligned with domestic priorities.

5) How Can Mandatory GHG Reporting Spur Climate Action?

Climate impacts are already damaging the health, safety and prosperity of communities around the world. These impacts are often disproportionate to communities’ own carbon footprints, as the consequences of climate change are not contained within national borders.

Measurement is a precursor to effective emissions mitigation. The proliferation of mandatory GHG reporting programs, therefore, can be seen as an important step towards concerted global action on climate change. All nations must take effective and meaningful action, which requires data-driven decision-making.