A more technical but hugely important issue in climate negotiations is measurement, reporting and verification (MRV). Monitoring what states are doing and whether their actions meet their commitments is a fundamental basis for international cooperation. There can be no credible global agreement unless there is trust that countries will comply - and that trust is contingent on monitoring mechanisms that can notify non-compliance and identify deliberate cheating. In the climate regime, MRV is meant to serve that purpose.
I have been listening to negotiators and experts outline their positions on the issue. Meanwhile, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change organised a side-event today to launch a new report by Dan Bodansky (international law professor at the Georgia School of Law and a former negotiator) and Clare Breidenich (a former State Department official who has also worked at the UNFCCC Secretariat). The paper explains in great detail the existing provisions -and challenges - for MRV for different parts of the climate regime: greenhouse gas inventories, trading of emission permits, mitigation actions by individual countries, and financial and technology commitments.
Since I know something about monitoring and review processes (a.k.a. my doctoral thesis!), I think there are four big questions that have to be answered.
First, what needs monitoring? Developing countries argue that MRV primarily applies to `quantified emission reduction commitments´ of developed countries. Developed countries it is important to measure the actions of developing countries as a condition for financial transfer to them. In other words, even if developing countries do not take on specific commitments to reduce emissions, their `nationally appropriate mitigation actions´(NAMAs) should be reported. In turn, developing countries point out that their NAMAs are contingent on support from rich countries. And so the debate goes on. There were a lot of references to chickens and eggs in the discussions.
Second, how do we overcome the capacity constraints in building monitoring systems? Reporting on their emissions accurately and regularly would impose a huge cost on developing countries. Until now the funding made available to poor countries to build monitoring capacity at home has been woefully inadequate. If data is collected from other sources, by international organisations or by NGOs, then serious issues of sovereignty arise.
Third, how would assessment and verification happen at the international level? Once the data on emissions, policies and actions, and financial and technological flows have been reported, it has to be independently verified. Currently, the climate regime checks whether developed countries follow international guidelines when preparing their reports - the actual data is not verified. For other actions, the procedures are even weaker. And developing countries' data is not verified at all. Going forward, these procedures would have to be strengthened to increase all-round confidence in the system.
Fourth, how would MRV help in promoting compliance? Verification is a technical process; reviews are inherently political. This is the elephant in the room, which is being sadly ignored. In other regimes, say WTO and the IMF, monitoring procedures have suffered precisely because developing countries have felt that they do not have adequate influence in promoting compliance by rich countries. What is the point of extensive and expensive procedures for generating information if enforcement is still affected by the power asymmetries between member states? In the climate regime, too, compliance and enforcement have been weak. If developing countries secure guarantees for financial and technological transfers, they would want effective compliance review as well.
The climate regime certainly needs robust monitoring. But it will fail in its objectives if there is no clear endgame. Trust yes, verify yes, but also comply.