Solar panels
A 290kW solar array is installed on an industrial roof in Picanya, Valencia, Spain. Flickr / Som Energia Cooperativa

World leaders are working towards a major new agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to be concluded at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris this December (COP21).

The agreement is built on pledges by each of the Parties, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Switzerland and the EU submitted their INDCs last month, and other developed countries are expected to follow soon, though some countries may not submit INDCs until after Paris.

But how will the Parties and observers know if collectively the contributions are enough to keep the world from warming by more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels? How will they know which countries are making substantial efforts, and which are lagging behind? And how will the Parties be held accountable for meeting their commitments, and be nudged to keep raising their ambition?

A new Nordic Working Group for Global Climate Negotiations (NOAK) report examines the options for assessment and review (A&R) of contributions under a Paris agreement, drawing on lessons from existing processes within and outside the UNFCCC. It suggests that some form of ex ante assessment and review of INDCs could help ensure that they are ambitious and fair.

Such a process can be complemented by assessments by observer organizations and informal discussions among Parties. In addition, a periodic review of collective ambition is desirable from the perspective of environmental effectiveness, and can build on existing review processes.

“Trust is key to ambition,” says NOAK Chair Peer Stiansen. “A good process for assessment and review of INDCs will help in building trust among Parties. This is vital both towards Paris and beyond. I trust that this report, together with several other NOAK sponsored reports on related topics, will assist the negotiators and others well in the challenging tasks ahead.”

Inviting a dialogue
The report, Assessment and Review under a 2015 Climate Change Agreement , was prepared by SEI, the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) and the German Development Institute (DIE). NOAK is a working group under the Nordic Council of Ministers.

The report was released Wednesday, 25 March, at a seminar at SEI in Stockholm that included a discussion with the authors, Stiansen, and Elin Kronqvist, of the Swedish Ministry of the Environment and Energy; Dr Hanna-Liisa Kangas, of the Finnish Environment Institute; and Petter Lydén, of Diakonia.

The report examines key choices and trade-offs that policy-makers will have to make in designing the A&R process. For example, they need to decide what to assess and review: just the mitigation pledges, or also other elements, such as contributions to climate finance and technology transfer (“means of implementation”)? Covering the full scope of the INDCs would increase transparency, but might be logistically difficult and politically infeasible. Yet given the developing countries’ keen interest in means of implementation, some form of A&R of this could help forge consensus in Paris.

Similarly, there could be some differentiation among the Parties: while no country should be completely exempted from A&R, the authors argue, requiring less scrutiny of the contributions of some smaller and poorer Parties (e.g. Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States) would reduce administrative burdens and could induce further participation.

The importance of domestic politics in developing INDCs also highlights the need to clarify and enhance the role of non-governmental actors in assessment and review. The report finds that involving such actors could prove particularly valuable in the absence of a formal assessment of individual INDCs, and could further strengthen A&R of implementation of the contributions.

“Not all of these issues can be resolved in time for Paris, and the details for A&R can be agreed in the coming years”, said Harro van Asselt, a research fellow and the report’s lead author. “Still, some key actions will be needed in Paris, such as a basic decision establishing an A&R process, both for ex ante reviews of contributions and for their implementation.”

Read the report (external link to Nordic Council of Ministers)

Read a policy brief summarizing the findings (external link to Nordic Council of Ministers)