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.

Lessons learned from climate transparency

One of the key issues at COP 22 in Marrakech was how to implement the transparency provisions of the Paris Agreement through which countries can hold one another accountable for their promises.

The agreement requires that this “enhanced transparency framework” build on parties’ experiences with existing transparency processes under the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A new C2ES brief highlights some of the key lessons countries are drawing from their experiences – lessons underscored by many parties in Marrakech.

The Paris Agreement requires all countries to report regularly on their greenhouse gas emissions and their efforts to reduce them. Their reports will be subject to two levels of international review – first, a review by technical experts, then a “multilateral consideration of progress” where countries put questions to one another. The new system is to provide “built-in flexibility” for developing countries with limited capacity. 

Under the existing system, which sets different requirements for developed and developing countries, the latter have only recently begun to undergo any form of international review. While many initially approached that prospect with trepidation, they’ve discovered more to be gained than feared.

One of the most important lessons shared by both developed and developing countries is that fulfilling their international transparency requirements has produced significant domestic benefits. Collecting the information needed for reporting starts important conversations across sectors and actors, between different levels of government, and among relevant stakeholders. Transparency as a government-wide effort can help identify mitigation opportunities and challenges as well as track and inform domestic policy implementation.

Another lesson is that the processes’ facilitative approach has helped parties overcome apprehensions about reporting and review. The process is more of a technical dialogue than an interrogation where experts judge or criticize parties. This friendly exchange helps parties learn and improve each time they go through technical analysis, since mistakes actually lead to identifying obstacles and areas for improvement as well as capacity-building needs.

Parties also have stressed that building stronger in-country capacity is crucial to effective developing country participation in transparency. Episodic project funding for the preparation and submission of greenhouse gas inventories makes it hard for developing countries to continuously collect data or provide regular training to their inventory experts. In-country capacity helps incentivize key players and institutions and establish a sense of ownership at the national and institutional level.

In Marrakech, seven developing countries went through their first Facilitative Sharing of Views (FSV) workshop under the existing International Consultation and Analysis (ICA) process. FSV is essentially a Q&A between the party or parties being assessed and other parties on the basis of their biennial update reports. 

At a side event, several parties, a technical expert and the secretariat reflected on further lessons from the ICA process. Namibia and Tunisia both said the process helps them improve the quality of their reports and promotes the institutional arrangements needed to form the basis for a national measurement, reporting and verification system. The secretariat noted that even it has capacity issues: with its supplementary budget depleted, its ability to undertake technical analysis is limited.

Like the FSV, the multilateral assessment is another peer review forum where parties are free to ask questions of a party on its biennial report. At COP 22, 24 developed countries went through a second round of Multilateral Assessment based on their second biennial reports under the International Assessment and Review process.

The Paris Agreement established a Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT), which will strengthen the institutional and technical capacities of developing countries to meet the enhanced transparency requirements and to improve over time. The CBIT just approved its first set of projects in Costa Rica, Kenya, South Africa, and 11 donors announced pledges totaling nearly $55.3 million. Other countries like Japan have declared their intention to support the fund.

Although no final decisions on transparency were taken in Marrakech, parties have made initial progress in negotiating the details of the Paris transparency framework. If all goes as planned, parties will wrap up their work on these decisions in 2018, to be adopted by the first meeting of the parties to the Paris Agreement.

A bright future for the International Solar Alliance

Rooftop solar panels in central India.

Photo courtesy Coshipi via Flickr

A bold initiative to vastly expand solar energy in developing countries recently reached two major milestones toward its ultimate goal of mobilizing $1 trillion in solar investments by 2030.

In late June, the World Bank Group signed an agreement establishing it as a financial partner of the International Solar Alliance, providing more than $1 billion in support. The Bank Group will develop a roadmap and work with other multilateral development banks and financial institutions to mobilize financing for development and deployment of affordable solar energy.

The news follows the June 7 joint announcement between India and the United States to launch an initiative through the Alliance focusing on off-grid solar energy.

The International Solar Alliance was announced at the Paris climate conference in December by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and French President François Hollande. It was one of many new initiatives involving business, civil society, and public-private partnerships launched in Paris.

The alliance will comprise 121 countries located between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer that typically have 300 or more days of sunshine a year. Companies involved in the project include Areva, HSBC France and Tata Steel. 

According to the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21), global solar capacity experienced record growth in 2015, with the annual market for new capacity up 25 percent over 2014. More than 50 gigawatts were added, bringing the total global capacity to about 227 gigawatts. That’s about 10 percent of the total amount of electricity the U.S. produced in 2015.

In developing and emerging economies, affordable financing is a challenge. The alliance will work to expand solar power primarily in countries that are resource-rich but energy-poor by mobilizing public finance from richer states to deliver universal energy access. Strategies include lowering financing costs, developing common standards, encouraging knowledge sharing and facilitating R&D collaborations.

President Hollande laid the foundation stone of the International Solar Alliance at the National Institute of Solar Energy in Gurgaon, Haryana in January, marking the first time India has hosted the headquarters of an international agency. The Indian government is investing an initial $30 million to set up the headquarters. The French Development Agency has earmarked over 300 million euros for the next five years to finance the alliance’s first batch of projects.

The solar alliance complements India’s own ambitious solar energy goals, which include a 2030 target of 40 percent of electric power capacity from non-fossil fuel energy sources as part of its intended nationally determined contribution to the Paris Agreement. India also plans to develop 100GW of solar power by 2022, a 30-fold increase in installed capacity. 

The growing support for the solar alliance is evidence of rising political momentum around the world to act on climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy. Look for a third major milestone in September, when the Alliance meets for its inaugural Founding Conference in Delhi.

International transparency provides domestic benefits

A central feature of the Paris Agreement is a stronger transparency system requiring countries to regularly report on their emissions and their national climate efforts.  

At the international level, this provides a critical means of accountability by letting countries see whether others are sticking to their commitments.

But one of the key messages that emerged at last month’s U.N. climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany — including at a side event organized by C2ES — is that greater transparency has important benefits back at home, too.

The May climate meeting, the first since negotiators adopted the Paris Agreement, featured a first-ever facilitative sharing of views (FSV) for developing countries. Thirteen developing country parties gave presentations on their first biennial reports on their efforts to reduce emissions, required under the 2010 Cancún Agreements, and responded to questions from other parties.

These countries, were applauded for their efforts and their achievements. Most of them focused on the challenges they faced in fulfilling their reporting obligations, the lessons learned in addressing or overcoming these obstacles, and what they might need to do more.

Many of these lessons were echoed in a C2ES side event, “Learning from UNFCCC Transparency Experience: Perspectives of Parties and Expert Reviewers.” The event featured negotiators and technical experts from Canada, the European Commission, New Zealand, South Africa and Brazil, with the latter two countries just having completed the FSV.

Both developed and developing countries said compiling their reports benefited them domestically by stimulating regular conversations among various levels of government and with nongovernment stakeholders. The process also helped institutionalize measurement, reporting and verification (MRV), and identified opportunities to strengthen domestic climate policies.

In two other side events hosted by the UNFCCC secretariat, Uruguay, Vietnam, Ghana and Peru reflected on their experiences under the existing transparency framework. Regular reporting and review is a significant undertaking, and they learned how much time and coordination is required. Even so, their initial experiences proved to be interactive and facilitative. Countries were provided assistance in their own language, and could communicate easily with experts and staff through technology like Skype.

The co-chairs of a new working group that will develop detailed decisions implementing the Paris Agreement also took up these themes, asking parties to share their experiences and lessons learned from the existing MRV arrangements. These lessons will also inform the next session of FSV, which will take place in Marrakech, Morocco, during COP 22.

Parties hope these lessons will inform the new rulebook that must be developed for the “enhanced transparency framework” called for in the Paris Agreement. One of the key takeaways is that by learning as they go, countries significantly improve the quality of their reporting, and their own policymaking becomes more effective as a result.

 

 

Action on HFCs heats up

We’re seeing new movement toward phasing down the fastest-growing group of greenhouse gases – hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs. These chemicals are widely used in refrigerators, air conditioners, foam products, and aerosols. And while they don’t stay in the atmosphere long, they can trap 1,000 times or more heat compared to carbon dioxide.

This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new regulations demonstrating its commitment to limiting the use of HFCs domestically. It proposed changes to its significant new alternatives program (SNAP) aimed at expanding the list of acceptable alternatives that minimize impacts on global warming while also restricting the use of HFCs in sectors where alternatives are now available. EPA estimates the proposed rule could avoid up to 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2030, which is equal to the energy-related emissions from about one million homes for one year.

Internationally, one sign of growing support for acting on HFCs came this month during the first visit by a U.S. president to Argentina in almost two decades. President Obama and newly elected Argentinian President Mauricio Macri explored opportunities to partner to address global challenges like climate change.

They affirmed their commitment to take action this year to amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs, which are substitutes for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) that were successfully phased out under the 1989 Montreal Protocol. The two leaders also endorsed the understandings reached at the Dubai Montreal Protocol meeting in November 2015 on financial support for developing countries to implement an HFC phasedown.

A key opportunity will come next week when Montreal Protocol negotiators meet in Geneva to build on the progress made toward reaching agreement this year on an HFC phasedown amendment.