Keeping track of climate progress: Are countries well-placed to meet new tracking needs?

, November 2012

 

As the business school adage goes, you manage what you measure.

When it comes to progress on climate change, measurement doesn’t often capture much public attention. However, measurement and reporting play a fundamental behind-the-scenes role: They help build confidence that countries are doing what they say, and they also build capacity for countries to identify opportunities and tackle challenges domestically.

Right now, climate negotiators are gathering in Doha for the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP 18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). While headlines around these meetings usually focus on the lack of progress in UNFCCC discussions of countries’ emissions reduction targets, the UNFCCC is making strides on other fronts. In the past three years, countries have agreed to significantly expand the amount of information they report on their greenhouse gas emissions and their climate policies and measures.

Many countries are also taking action domestically to reduce their emissions, creating additional policy tracking needs beyond those for the UNFCCC. As they expand existing climate policy efforts and plan future policy directions, policymakers need to get a better sense of their progress so far.

These emerging reporting needs are a good thing — they mean that countries are expanding their climate policy efforts and need to know how they’re doing. However, these new requirements also place new demands on the institutions and processes countries use for measurement, reporting, and verification.

In a new report, CPI identifies what these developments will mean for domestic measurement, reporting, and verification systems in four countries — China, Germany, Italy, and the United States — and identifies priority areas for improvement. We focus on these four countries because they face different international obligations and have all made significant — though varied — domestic commitments to climate change mitigation; they are also countries where CPI has on-the-ground expertise.

Some of our key findings are:

International reporting under the UNFCCC is expanding for all countries.

  • Germany and Italy are well-placed to meet the new requirements, which largely cover the same ground as existing European Union climate reporting.
  • The United States will have to report more frequently on its climate policies and measures. National Communications to the UNFCCC are an important driver of comprehensive review of U.S. policies. The U.S. is changing from reporting on mitigation actions every four years to every two, which will give more frequent and useful information to government and the public. The U.S. can draw on existing strengths in policy analysis and is relatively well-placed to meet the new requirements by expanding existing tracking systems.
  • The biggest change in reporting requirements is for China, which will have to report its greenhouse gas emissions much more frequently, and with a shorter time lag, than it has done before. Although China has been building capacity in this area, it still has significant ground to make up in order to meet the new requirements for emissions reporting. However, China’s existing domestic policy tracking efforts put it in a good position to report internationally on its mitigation actions.

Domestic policy drivers are more diverse. All four countries in our study must do more to produce the information and analysis needed to support ongoing domestic policy processes.

  • In China, provincial and local governments are taking on targets for energy and emissions savings but do not yet have systems in place to monitor progress toward these targets. In order to meet this new need, China will need to extend its existing tracking capacity from the national government to these sub-national governments.
  • As Germany moves forward with its transition to a low-carbon energy system, it must define indicators for success and establish a system for monitoring progress. Germany’s existing tracking systems are strong, and it is well-placed to meet the new needs associated with tracking the energy transition.
  • Italy is generally well-prepared to monitor implementation of its national climate policy, but it may need to do more to assess the effectiveness of renewable energy policies.
  • In the United States, more comprehensive information on the effectiveness of current policies is needed to inform ongoing policy discussions and help policymakers track progress toward broad climate and clean energy goals. The U.S. has existing expertise to draw on in improving tracking systems to meet these new needs, but improving the comparability of data is a significant challenge.

CPI is working with governments to address these needs, build capacity, and draw lessons from experience. We will continue reporting on these efforts to share best practices and lessons learned.

 

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