When the world’s climate change negotiators meet in Doha in Qatar this month, they will try to resolve the difficult issues that have stymied policy progress for years. To do this, the working group preparing for the talks must seek to build consensus. They will not succeed without new levels of transparency from participants and input from a broader range of stakeholders.
Transparency provides certainty that countries are taking action to keep global warming within the 2 degree Celsius window that is the globally accepted target for climate change mitigation. This is a crucial element in spurring countries to greater efforts, because it allows leaders to benchmark their progress against others. Such openness translates into increased carbon reduction targets over time and more active – and varied - efforts to mitigate climate change. It also means greater accountability by countries to achieve the goals they set out for themselves within a specified timeframe.
The assertion by some scholars that transparency and accountability are prerequisites to the legitimacy of climate agreements is an important one. It suggests that institutions like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) should be looking to conduct negotiations through its Durban Platform in a transparent and open way so as to strengthen its legitimacy and build consensus.
The Durban Platform emerged from the agreements at last year’s talks in South Africa in an effort to engage negotiators in discussing mitigation, adaptation and increased targets for carbon reduction for all countries who have signed on to the current climate treaty. The working group charged with implementing this is the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, or ADP for short.
Starting its work as a matter of urgency in the first half of 2012, the Durban Platform is slated to complete its work no later than 2015 in order to adopt a new legally binding agreement that will be applicable to all countries.
This year, countries will meet in Doha from 26 November to 7 December to both determine the immediate future of the Kyoto Protocol and develop a framework for a new protocol, legal instrument or an agreed outcome by 2015.
The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement which sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions over a five-year period from 2008 to 2012. Despite being designed to be efficient and equitable, it has been heavily criticized for involving only rich countries, while not setting commitments for fast-growing emerging economics such as China and India. The United States, one of the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide has also refused to participate, thus adding to the perceived failure of the Kyoto Protocol.
Furthermore, Canada, Japan and Russia have indicated that they do not want to be obligated under the Kyoto Protocol beyond its first commitment period, which ends 31 December 2012. Together, these countries account for 29.2 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and their formal withdrawal of participation relegates them to observer status, much like the United States, and puts the future of the Kyoto Protocol at peril. For Kyoto supporters, this is a symbolic blow and badly damages a UN climate process already weakened by divisions.
Another major obstacle to the success of the Kyoto Protocol has been the lack of transparency in emissions reduction, particularly in tracing the sales of emission quotas under the Clean Development Mechanism. Coupled with entrenched regional differences and lack of commitment to uphold obligations to the Kyoto Protocol, the lack of transparency has certainly affected the legitimacy of the climate regime.
To address these loopholes, the UNFCCC Secretariat has been hastening efforts to ensure transparency and accountability and conduct negotiations in an open and inclusive manner. For instance, the Green Climate Fund was the first multilateral financial instrument to be negotiated with its Transitional Committee meetings held last year which was open to observers.
And now the Durban Platform working group is going a step further by inviting input from involved parties on how best to advance their work and to send a clear signal that it is making progress towards a new agreement with legal clout, as well as towards increasing the level of ambition of all countries. The goal is to leave Doha with a clear and agreed calendar identifying elements of work and immediate, practical activities for the years ahead.
To this end, key documents are made available online for public download.
The co-chairs of the Durban Platform have also requested that the Secretariat of the Convention make inputs from Parties available on the UNFCCC website without exception. This would allow representatives of countries and observer organizations following the proceedings to understand which items on the agenda of the Durban Platform need further work.
Further accountability mechanisms that will provide greater assurance between contributor and recipient countries with regard to finance mobilization include the Measuring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) of climate finance.
To ensure success in Doha, the onus is clearly on the world’s leaders to reduce greenhouse gases and prepare for adaptation to the expected impacts of climate change. But transforming the climate negotiation process into one that is transparent, open and comprehensive will go a long way toward making their job easier.