Toward Greater Transparency Between U.S. and China

Over the past five years, countries have been working through the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to strengthen the measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Because these issues are especially important to the United States and China, C2ES has been partnering with Tsinghua University to convene informal discussions among MRV experts from both countries.

In late 2010 with Tsinghua, we organized a workshop in Beijing on Reporting Practices Related to Climate Change and Other International Challenges. This initial gathering focused on MRV at the international level. Last week, we co-hosted a second workshop in Washington, D.C., on Domestic MRV of Climate Efforts.

While the issues can quickly become highly technical, it’s important to remember why stronger measurement, reporting and verification are so important: MRV contributes to stronger greenhouse gas mitigation by building confidence among countries, helps them track national and international progress, and provides opportunities to learn from one another’s experiences. In his opening remarks, Professor Teng Fei of Tsinghua University characterized MRV at the domestic level and MRV of international action as two sides of the same coin.

The workshop provided an excellent overview of MRV practices and challenges in both countries (we’ll be posting a more detailed summary soon).  From the U.S. EPA, Kong Chiu provided an in-depth look at EPA’s new Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program, while Jeremy Schreifels shared significant insights from MRV experience under non-GHG cap-and-trade programs. Clare Breidenich and Michael Gillenwater described MRV efforts under California’s renewable energy standard and GHG trading program.

From the Chinese side, Teng Fei provided an excellent overview of energy data reporting and verification in China, important for monitoring the national energy intensity target; Renmin University’s Wu Jian gave a superb overview of pilot sulfur dioxide (SO2) control programs in China; Tsinghua’s Wu Jian provided an exceptionally useful overview of the status of China’s pilot GHG trading programs; and Wang Lan of the China Building Materials Academy gave valuable insight into how China’s cement sector is likely to be asked to measure and report emissions.

A couple of simple but important lessons stood out from both the U.S. and Chinese experiences. The first was the importance of working across multiple, often overlapping, government programs. Georgetown’s Joanna Lewis and the World Bank’s Xueman Wang, in sharing their key takeaways from the workshop, pointed out the challenge of ensuring coherence among different MRV systems in China, given co-existing national targets (emissions intensity, energy intensity, and renewable energy) and the range of instruments needed at all levels of government to meet them. It was noted that California, with its various GHG-related policies, faces similar challenges. Lending a private sector perspective, Jeff Hopkins of Rio Tinto emphasized the importance of coherence across MRV systems to companies operating in various jurisdictions, each with different GHG-control policies.

The second lesson was that measurement, reporting and verification systems continuously evolve and improve over time. As countries around the world are looking to implement significant climate policies, starting implementation sooner, even with a more modest MRV system, may trump having a “perfect” system in place. In both China and the U.S., experience and capacity have built up over time, with policy monitoring feeding back into stronger policy design and implementation– ultimately allowing for greater efficiency and effectiveness in delivering on environmental objectives.

Apart from these concrete policy lessons, it was also clear that the international dialogue around MRV has become less political since our earlier workshop in Beijing, perhaps reflecting the progress made on MRV issues at the last two UNFCCC conferences in Cancún and Durban. Discussion at the workshop was frank, relaxed, open, and based on a genuine desire to learn. For us, it was an encouraging sign that measurement, reporting and verification can indeed be a source of stronger cooperation and climate action.