What the Paris Agreement’s global stocktake can learn from the Sustainable Development Goals

When negotiators meet next month in Katowice, Poland, to adopt the Paris “rulebook,” one of the key issues will be the design of the Paris Agreement’s global stocktake, the process that will be undertaken every five years to assess collective progress toward the agreement’s long-term goals.

As I note in a recent article, parties may want to look at the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) for lessons in handling a lot of data, assessing adaptation, and involving non-state actors.

Among international review processes, the global stocktake is pretty one-of-a-kind. One issue in designing it is simply how to manage information. Parties will have to consider how to distill data from more than 190 countries to draw conclusions at the global level. Another issue is how to address the “equity” of countries’ respective climate efforts. A third issue is how to link the global stocktake to other Paris Agreement processes. A fourth is how non-state actors could participate in the global stocktake.

In my article, I compare the SDGs and the HLPF to the structure and aims of the global stocktake. In 2015, the UN set out 17 global goals, including on climate change and sustainable consumption, and invited UN Members to achieve them. An annual HLPF provides a public opportunity to voluntarily highlight individual achievements and concludes with a high-level report from the Secretary-General describing progress towards the SDGs.

The SDGs and global stocktake processes are similar in several ways. Both are geared towards measuring collective, global progress towards ambitious, long-term goals. Both also purposefully promote experience- and lessons-sharing as a means for countries to learn from one another. In doing so, they can galvanize momentum with the aim of enhancing implementation domestically and increasing ambition over time. Both reviews also emphasize the importance of science and data, which can provide important opportunities for non-state actor contributions and participation.

In other ways, the processes, and the agreements they serve, are quite different: Member States report on their progress towards the SDGs on a completely voluntary basis, whereas Parties to the Paris Agreement are obligated to report on their efforts. The SDGs process features many goals, while the global stocktake will measure progress towards three: long-term mitigation, adaptation, and financial goals. The HLPF occurs every year, reviews only some of the SDGs, and encourages but does not obligate Member States to take forward lessons from the HLPF and UN Secretary-General report into their policy planning and monitoring processes. The Paris Agreement, however, says that the outcome of the global stocktake “shall inform Parties in updating and enhancing…their actions and support…, as well as enhancing international cooperation for climate action.”

Underpinning both reviews is faith that learning by doing will increase capacity and ambition over time. In facilitating that dynamic, it’s important to consider the cost, administrative burden, efficiencies and political impact of the process being designed, and how these factors are entwined with the questions of managing data, timing, and linkages. The SDGs process could also potentially benefit the Paris parties as they address adaptation in the global stocktake if they choose to borrow from the SDG indicators in adaptation-related areas like water or land.

Finally, both processes will evolve over time, which can provide opportunities for learning, collaboration, and fine-tuning, all the while mainstreaming climate change and building capacity for those who need it.

In less than a month’s time, Parties will need to turn the broad outlines of the global stocktake into specifics. The modalities decided in Katowice will lay the groundwork for a process that can carry forward the current political momentum and contribute to of the ultimate success of the Agreement, giving it the robustness, ambition, and durability that parties envisioned in Paris.