Transparency has frequently been lauded as one of the most crucial factors for improving environmental outcomes, particularly in the context of international environmental agreements. Yet some critics argue that improvements in transparency can come at the expense of more strict regulatory measures, often in an attempt to stifle meaningful progress.

The authors develop and apply a new theoretical framework with the intention of both recognising the structural forces that constrain transformation and taking seriously the agency of less powerful actors to effect change. In this way, transparency can be approached as a terrain of political conflict where different coalitions can pursue their respective interests.

According to this view, as norms related to transparency are recognized and translated into accountability mechanisms, and as these mechanisms are complied with, effects cascade and substantially influence the ability of transparency to transform relationships of inequality.

When applied to the case of climate finance, provided under the Paris Agreement, the study suggests that while strong norms related to transparency are in place, the translation to accountability mechanisms has been weak and compliance by donor countries limited. As such, a focus on enhancing transparency is unlikely to be sufficient for realizing a climate policy regime that is both adequate and equitable.