How the Paris Global Climate Deal Holds Governments Accountable: Transparency and Compliance

How the Paris Global Climate Deal Holds Governments Accountable: Transparency and Compliance
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2015 was billed as a landmark year in addressing climate change, and as government and business offices around the world close for the holiday season, it certainly feels like one. Just over a week ago in Paris a game changing global climate deal was agreed by 195 countries. As someone who advises business, investors and governments around the world on their climate policies, the key question I have been asked post Paris is whether the Agreement will stand the test of time. Will it survive the real 'politik' of electoral cycles and party politics?

The national targets by themselves are voluntary and not legally binding. This was not a failure in negotiation, but a calculated necessity to secure universal participation. Reporting on performance is legally binding, as is a review of performance, and a five yearly demand for plans of increasing ambition. But countries cannot be penalised for not following through with targets, for not reporting adequately, or for not meeting the "expectation" of increasing ambition over time. Countries can pull out, but they can also not perform and stay in. The deal is based on good will; on world leaders believing, like they did on Dec 12th 2015, that all will benefit from collectively addressing this challenge. Being left behind in this new international regime is not beneficial, for diplomatic standing, or for the economy at home.

So what does the Paris Agreement actually deliver in terms of holding governments accountable on climate action? Unsurprisingly, transparency, an issue at the heart of deal credibility and national accountability, went down to the wire in Paris. At its simplest a robust transparency mechanism helps to build confidence that national targets and promised actions are being delivered. Confidence amongst governments as they look at their peers, and confidence from business, investors and the public that a durable and irreversible low carbon transition is underway.

The Agreement's Transparency mechanism, along with its sister elements - the five yearly review, the five yearly re-pledge, and the new compliance committee - represent Paris' legally binding accountability framework.

The text outlines a robust transparency process requiring regular - at least every two years - disclosure of performance, accurate and complete data, independent reviews, and consistent reporting. That's a strong framework, but it doesn't apply to everyone: developing countries are afforded flexibility in the scope, frequency and detail of reporting, and have an opt-out on in-country reviews. While this differentiation was a bone of contention late in the negotiations, particularly with big emitters like China and India falling into this group, it was ultimately a point of compromise.

All in all the cornerstones for accountability and compliance are present. The Agreement is committed to robust and common accounting and reporting standards, and to independent review. The built in flexibility is important as it recognises the different national circumstances of poorer countries, and provides financial and technical support to enable these parties to comply. The five year global stock-take cycle starting in 2018 provides a basis to check-in, and the demand for five year national plans with no back-sliding creates the trajectory for accelerating decarbonisation. The latter, so called "ratchet", is critical to ensuring parties are accountable not just to targets, but over time to good enough targets to reach the overarching goal of "well below" 2C warming.

The Agreement delivers, on compliance, what the world can accept today to move forward together under a new international climate regime. It has brought all parties inside the tent, and if other international treaties like the Montreal Protocol are anything to go by, the mechanics of transparency and compliance will be amended and strengthened over time. We should expect to see more detail on accountability and compliance at next year's United Nations (UN) climate summit in Marrakech, and the final shape and form will be presented for adoption in 2018 at COP24.

The new Post Paris United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) merry go-round of reviews and renewing pledges then begins: 2020 (renew), 2023 (review), 2025 (renew), 2028 (review), 2030 (renew). And so it continues. The hope is that with each time increment, the technologies and economics of clean energy and carbon capture rapidly improve, emboldening the bottom up process of nationally determined commitments and action to deliver the pace of change needed.

Agreement of a global climate deal would never happen today if non-performance or non-compliance resulted in punishment - in withdrawal, fines, or sanctions - like some other international UN treaties. The Paris text makes this clear by stating compliance is "non-punitive". The Agreement does however ensure that countries must come to a multilateral setting to discuss performance on their emissions reduction targets. This spotlight on performance amongst peers, visible and open to the commentary of media, NGOs, business and the broader public, creates the reputational and diplomatic pressure cooker to deliver. Clear non-performance, un-justified by national circumstances, will cause a loss of trust and credibility, from peers, investors, business and citizens. It is also only a matter of time before attempts at enforcement through national judicial systems could be seen. This year's ruling in the Netherlands ordering the government to take action on cutting greenhouse gases in response to a case filed by its citizens is already setting a precedent for such action. The existence now of an international legally binding deal, with transparent national performance on targets, provides further context for such climate court cases.

The goal for Paris always had to be one of a global deal, for global action, on a globally shared challenge. Parties came to the table at Paris, and will hopefully stay there, as the deal represents a new regime that no party can afford not to be a part of. The draw of being at the front of the low carbon transition is too great, and the risk of not addressing climate change is too large. The challenge for 2016 and beyond is build on the bedrock of transparency and accountability that Paris provides, to strengthen it and deliver real credibility, whilst keeping all nations on board.

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