One of the key negotiating issues for Cop26 remains unresolved at this late stage: transparency. Under the 2015 Paris climate agreement, nations set targets on their future greenhouse gas emissions, but we don’t yet know how we will ensure that the ways they report and account for those targets and emissions are transparent and fair.
The discussions on transparency to finalise the nuts and bolts of the framework set up in Paris are stalled. Discussions should have been finalised in 2020 but were postponed owing to the pandemic. We are a year behind in the mandate and with most talks happening in a challenging virtual format throughout last year and this one, there is still no clear path toward agreement. If we do not get this right it threatens to undermine any agreement to close the gap between the targets countries set and the emissions cuts needed to keep warming to 1.5C.
Unlike the pre-Paris system, this one does not categorise countries developed or developing with different rules for each. The new rules apply to all countries regardless of level of development with (i) specific exceptions for small island developing countries and least developed countries and (ii) provisions allowing for flexibility in the reporting standards, in key areas, for developing countries that need it.
Countries do not have to show internationally that they have implemented climate pledges. They must rather demonstrate progress in implementation. It is a fine distinction, but a necessary one to get the Paris agreement finalised. This activity to report on “progress” is therefore the only means of keeping track of whether countries do what they said they were going to do. It also encompasses reporting on climate finance, so it supports the trust element needed for the entire system of global cooperation to work.
There is a complex array of issues involved. The question of capacity and the provision of financial and other support to assist countries that need it; the question of the relationship with the carbon market arrangements that are also still being negotiated (called article 6); how the outcome of those discussions will be reflected in the reporting arrangements; and lastly, perhaps the largest elephant in the room, the question of how the worsening relationship between the US and China is going to affect the discussions.
It should be a secret to no one that transparent reporting has always been a high priority for the US, especially as it relates to being able to scrutinise Chinese reporting. Although these two superpowers were able to cooperate and shepherd in the new transparency arrangements, now that we are in the final stages of making those arrangements workable their less than desirable bilateral relationship is a potential complicating factor.
For negotiators from small countries who desperately need the system to work in support of 1.5C ambitions, and who also will need support to be able to implement it themselves, the question becomes one of whether mice dare to walk where elephants tread? How do we delicately dance ourselves towards an agreement on a very technical issue without getting blown off track by the strong political winds that threaten?
Every week we’ll hear from negotiators from a developing country that is involved in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations and is attending the Cop26 climate conference.