Today is Earth Day. What more fitting moment could there be for the official signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 nations at the COP21 climate talks in Paris last December, representing 93 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The opening plenary of the conference on November 30 marked a record for the most heads of state ever assembled in one room at one time, signalling the global consensus for climate action.
Today’s ceremony is the next step for implementation of the agreement. Reflecting the growing sense of global urgency to address climate change yet another record was broken this morning, with heads of state and high ministers from more than 170 nations officially signing the agreement. No prior global agreement has ever had as many signatories on its first day.
Fueling this urgency is the ever more apparent reality that we now live in a climate-changed world. As nations, states, cities and businesses across the globe respond to climate change, the framework set forth in the Paris Agreement is the focal point for developing the mechanisms required to carry forth this nascent momentum into the next century.
The strength of the Paris Agreement lay in its balance of flexibility and enforceability. Writing in the Grantham Research Institute blog at the conclusion of the of COP21 last December, Michael Jacobs called the Paris Agreement “highly ambitious and very clever.”
The treaty, Jacobs suggests, expresses the highest possible ambition given the economic and political framework in which any agreement can effectively operate, at least initially. Today’s historic signing bears this out.
Carefully drafted to avoid messy internal national political fights, the Paris Agreement navigates elements of implementation through a process non-binding bottom up national contributions and binding top down procedural commitments designed to strengthen accountability and transparency while building on the initial ambition reached in Paris.
In the spirit of “common yet differentiated responsibilities” the INDCs, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, allow each nation to define its own goals and plan for climate action. These nationally determined contributions are non-binding commitments for each country to do their best within their own abilities. All signatories are required to report on their emissions and progress on achieving their INDC, enforcing transparency, accountability and ambition - the “ratcheting up” process of the INDCs that was so often discussed and hotly debated in Paris.
Initiative for Climate Action Transparency
Jacobs, a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research, prolific writer on international climate policy and member of the climate change advisory board for the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), among many other duties and responsibilities, spoke with me earlier this week about the launch earlier this month of the Initiative for Climate Action Transparency.
Founded in 2015 by CIFF and the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), the initiative is a response to calls for support from developing countries for improved transparency and capacity building related to the Paris Agreement, fostering greater trust and ambition toward effective climate policy worldwide.
“In any collective system countries have got to know what others are doing otherwise their own efforts risk looking futile,” Jacobs says. “It’s a very profound part of international climate policy.”
“You need to measure what is happening and the environmental impacts” says Jacobs. “The climate regime embeds some of that in its core structures and has for quite a long time. Greenhouse gas emission need to be measured.” This is, as Jacobs puts it, “bedrock” to any climate action plan.
Nonetheless, this basic measurement and reporting is “still quite weak” in many countries.
“In many countries around the world, greenhouse gas reporting has not been done very often, and in some cases not at all, so we really do need to strengthen that,” Jacobs says.
The broad international support of the Paris Agreement demonstrates the commitment of nations in both the developed and developing world for climate action. The core of the Initiative is to reinforce the capability of countries to “capture what’s going on” with their greenhouse gas emissions. But beyond this fundamental aspect the initiative aims to contribute something more profound to the process of accounting and transparency through support of effective policymaking.
“There’s more than just counting the outcomes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Jacobs, “what countries really need to do is know that the policies they’re putting in place to reduce their emissions, and indeed to adapt to climate change, are receptive.”
Policy reaches beyond the core element of data outcomes to the relationship between policy and outcome. Making this connection between strategy and outcome leads to effective iteration of policy, improving what isn’t working and reinforcing what is.
“This is crucial if countries want to take action,” Jacobs says.
“Most of the policies in these fields have multiple objectives and outcomes. You need to be able to measure and affect them all.”
This is the “richer challenge” of the project. Rooted in the Paris Agreement,“we’re not starting from a blank sheet of paper,” Jacobs says. The Initiative draws on a wide range of experience and knowledge garnered previous international climate development work. It builds on expertise within target nations as well as experts from across the globe.
“[Developing countries] have capacity internally in their own institutions,” says Jacobs, “and it is sufficiently embedded within those institutions. This is an attempt to build that capacity in a deep way at an institutional level.”
The institutional capacity building will provide for methodologies applicable beyond the specific localities in which the initiative operates. This allows for each country to build its own climate action regime, with good policy specific to its own context, while creating methods and practices that can be applied to other countries and contexts as well.
“This is knowledge that becomes a public good and is shareable across the world,” Jacobs says.
In a sense it is global capacity building.
Beyond climate - the benefits of action
Global warming is, or course, a symptom to the much larger issue of human well-being and sustainable development, an interconnectedness expressed in both the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Flowing out of these capacity building efforts for effective, iterative policymaking, nations will be able to not only measure and report their emissions, but see how the impacts of climate action reaches beyond emissions reduction.
With action on climate comes economic growth, improved income, increase human health, reduced ancillary environmental impacts and helps foster the conditions for a better, more sustainable society.
The Initiative for Climate Action Transparency will work to build capacity within at least 20-30 developing countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Image credit: Thomas Schueneman, all rights reserved