Why transparency makes the Paris Agreement a good deal

Listening to some of the reasons President Trump cited for his decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement – how it undermines national sovereignty while other countries do “nothing” – I found myself wishing someone had done a better job explaining to him how the agreement actually addresses his very concerns through increased transparency.

I saw this kind of transparency at work two weeks earlier, at the U.N. climate talks in Bonn, Germany, where countries, including the United States and India, took turns explaining to the international community the steps they’re taking to address climate change.

One of the Paris Agreement’s few binding commitments is for parties to report and be reviewed on their progress toward their climate targets. Under the two existing arrangements that will serve as a model for the new transparency rules being developed under the Paris Agreement, countries report every two years, providing information on emissions and on progress toward their climate goals. These reports are reviewed by a team of experts, and reporting countries undergo “peer review.” Other countries can pepper them with questions about their report, first in writing, then in a publicly broadcast session for all to hear.

In Bonn, 29 countries were up for peer review, including Mauritania, the first least developed country to go through the process. These countries publicly answered questions about the steps they are taking to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and build resilience.

India served as a particularly rich example of the benefits of this “facilitative sharing of views,” as the process for developing countries is called. President Trump suggested that India would take action only upon receiving “billions and billions and billions” of foreign aid. But with the cost of solar power plummeting, India boasts an impressive array of ambitious solar and other renewable energy targets and policies aimed at reducing poverty and expanding access to electricity. Developed and developing countries alike were curious to know how India advanced renewable energy policy in such a short timeframe and how its federal government works with local governments and the private sector to reduce emissions and implement policy.

The United States presented at the “multilateral assessment” for developed countries. A crowded room, while eager to hear how the new administration’s policies would affect U.S. emissions, responded respectfully as the lead U.S. negotiator reiterated that current and future climate policies were under review – no other countries, as the president imagined in his Rose Garden speech, were laughing.

China, which is likely to achieve its target of peaking emissions by 2025 (five years earlier than its commitment), is also undergoing this reporting and review process for the first time. It recently submitted its first biennial update report and may have a similar conversation with the international community at the climate conference in November.

Transparency is integral to instilling the confidence all countries need so that each is willing to do its part and is committed to doing more over time. All countries face the challenge of growing their economies while tackling climate change. Greater engagement, not less, can provide the assurances that President Trump is seeking: respect for national sovereignty, mutual confidence and trust, and confidence that others are acting.

A commitment to transparency reflects the understanding that the best deal is one that makes it clear that all countries are doing their share to address the climate challenge.