November 17, 2016, by Kieran Cooke
People spell out a message to nations at last year’s climate change conference in Paris.
Image: Until_fullmoon via Flickr
Pledges to reduce emissions and tackle climate change are important, but a new study says making sure they are actually carried through is vital.
LONDON, 17 November, 2016 − The big achievement of the Paris Agreement on climate change last December was getting more than 190 countries around the world to agree to a significant programme of lowering carbon emissions. But the reality is that promises are no good if not followed up by action.
Nations also pledged to pursue various other policies aimed at meeting the goal of limiting the rise in average global temperature to 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
But a new study published in Climate Policy journal warns that laudable as these pledges and policies are, they mean very little without strong, transparent monitoring systems capable of building trust between the various nations involved.
Mikael Hildén, professor on SYKE’s climate change programme, says: “Monitoring is probably the most underestimated challenge in implementing the Paris Agreement.
“In the past, it has been seen as a technical, data-gathering task. We show that it is anything but a mere reporting exercise.”
The study looked at the methods used to oversee climate policies in the European Union (EU). And although the EU’s approach is described as one of the most advanced monitoring systems in the world, the study finds it has serious shortcomings.
These include arguments among participating countries over the costs involved in the monitoring process, which institutions should control and oversee the system, and the usefulness or otherwise of the information collected.
The EU monitoring mechanism was created in 1993 to compile data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions within the union. Later, the mechanism was broadened to include monitoring of each EU country’s climate policies.
“Monitoring is probably the most underestimated challenge in implementing the Paris Agreement”
Under the system, the countries are individually responsible for collating their own data – with governments unwilling to allow EU institutions to have too much control.
Over the years, countries have adopted different methods of monitoring GHG emissions and climate policies. This has made comparisons between various states difficult and, the study says, the monitoring process has been characterised by a general lack of transparency.
Differences have also arisen as to how data should be interpreted. Often nations have not supplied references to corroborate their findings: while Germany has in the past given full references, the UK and Spain often supplied none at all.
The study says that even though the EU’s emissions monitoring mechanism had a good deal of political support and evolved at a time when there was a relatively high trust in EU institutions, it has been fraught with difficulties.
“It is curious how something seemingly as technical as monitoring appears, with the benefit of hindsight, to have been so deeply contentious,” the study says.
Experts say that agreeing on a strong, transparent and uniform monitoring system to be applied to all signatories of the Paris Agreement will be no easy task − especially in the present political atmosphere, with growing nationalism and suspicion of international agreements and institutions evident in many countries.
The study has a sombre message: “Given the post-Paris drive to achieve greater transparency, the EU’s experience offers a sobering reminder of the political and technical challenges associated with climate policy monitoring − challenges that are likely to bedevil the Paris Agreement for decades to come.” – Climate News Network
Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues