The UNFCCC meetings in Bonn this week mark a critical time, as one of the issues negotiators are focusing on is the development of countries’ post-2020 plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Parties in a position to do so must communicate their post-2020 “contributions” by the first quarter of 2015.

But what good is a contribution if no one can understand what it actually means? For example, if a country puts forward a GHG mitigation goal, it’s important to also share information about that goal—such as the base year, the target period, the sectors and greenhouse gases covered, among other issues. Without this kind of information, it can be difficult to make sense of different contributions, to compare them to those of other countries, or to see whether or not countries’ collective mitigation contributions will be able to limit warming to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.

In Bonn, negotiators have a chance to provide more guidance on the types of information Parties should submit with their contributions. To help inform this discussion, my colleagues and I have released a working paper outlining what this information should look like (see Box 1), and why this level of transparency is important.

Box 1: Examples of Information to Help Understand Contributions

This list provides a few examples of what kinds of information countries’ greenhouse gas-reduction contributions can provide. For a full list, download our working paper.

GHG mitigation goals should include information on:

  • Goal description (e.g., including goal type and level, whether it is single-year or multi-year, base year and target year, sector and greenhouse gas coverage, and more)
  • Additional information for baseline scenario goals (e.g., including whether the baseline scenario is static of dynamic, the policies and actions included in the baseline, the cut-off year for their inclusion, and more)
  • Land-use sector accounting
  • Accounting for transferable emissions units
  • And more

Policies should include information on:

  • Description of the policy (e.g., including status of the policy, geographic area, greenhouse gases, and sectors targeted, and more)
  • Estimated change in greenhouse gas emissions and removals resulting from the policy
  • Methodology for estimating the change in emissions and removals ex-anteg for transferable enits
  • And more

Projects should include information on:

  • Description of the project (including its status, start date, covered sectors, and more)
  • Estimated GHG reductions as a result of the project
  • Methodology for estimating GHG reductions ex-ante
  • Transferable emissions units
  • And more

Also, for each contribution type, we suggest that Parties provide a justification for why their contribution is equitable and ambitious.

The paper focuses on mitigation contributions (as opposed to finance, technology transfer, adaptation, or capacity-building contributions) and provides a list of information that Parties could provide alongside their GHG mitigation goals, policies, and projects in order to understand their associated emissions reductions. Insights for the paper were gathered through WRI’s development of the GHG Protocol Mitigation Goals Standard, GHG Protocol Policy and Action Standard, and GHG Protocol for Project Accounting.

Providing detailed information alongside contributions would result in a number of benefits, including:

  • Building trust: Transparency enables Parties and national stakeholders to understand how their contributions compare with those of other Parties. This knowledge can ideally lead Parties to take greater action. Deeper trust can also encourage participation in the design of the 2015 Agreement and increase support for its implementation. Broad participation is critical for ensuring that the Agreement is viewed as credible by all stakeholders.

  • Improving assessments of emission reductions: A lack of transparency regarding the underlying assumptions and methodological aspects of national contributions—such as double-counting of transferable emissions units, accounting for the land use sector, and other factors—could lead Parties to over- or under-estimate associated GHG reductions.

  • Enabling assessment of global ambition: Without sufficient information provided alongside contributions, it won’t be possible to aggregate estimated future emissions levels and emissions reductions across Parties. In such a case, there would be significant uncertainty about whether Parties’ contributions are consistent with limiting warming to 2°C. Therefore, clarification not only provides a critical foundation for understanding global ambition vis-à-vis the 2°C goal, but also for increasing ambition accordingly to ensure that the goal is achieved.

  • Fostering dialogue on ambition and equity: If Parties clarify why they consider their contribution to be equitable and ambitious (an information requirement we suggest in our paper), it could help support dialogue across Parties on the principles of equity and common-but-differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and how they translate into the level of ambition and effort undertaken by each Party.

  • Enhancing domestic implementation: Providing upfront clarification—especially before a contribution has been finalized—enables national decision-makers to consider how their commitment is designed. This can help policy-makers to plan, design, and implement the mitigation strategies needed to achieve the goal.

The collective ambition of national mitigation contributions for the post-2020 period will determine whether the world gets on track toward the 2°C goal. Our hope is that the process to ensure clarity, transparency, and understanding of these contributions will improve trust and provide a basis for a more equitable and ambitious agreement. Although not exhaustive, the kinds of information we call for will be necessary for ensuring that national contributions for the post-2020 period deliver the emissions reductions needed to avoid dangerous climate change.

LEARN MORE: Download our full working paper, Ex-Ante Clarification, Transparency, and Understanding of Intended Nationally Determined Mitigation Commitments