Transparency of (in)Action? Eight key matters to follow in the COP26 transparency negotiations

COP26 is just around the corner. What to expect? Key negotiation items on the agenda are common timeframes for NDCs, market mechanisms, climate finance and transparency. Indeed, transparency is one of the most contentious negotiation items, with talks on this item closed to observers at the preceding intersessional session in May-June 2021. This blogpost outlines key issues central to the transparency negotiations at COP26.

‘New transparency’: The Enhanced Transparency Framework

Perhaps the most contentious transparency negotiations will be those on the ‘new’ Enhanced Transparency Framework that was established under the Paris Agreement. While most of the provisions of this framework have already been decided upon, some key matters remain. At first glance they may seem purely technical, but we argue that these matters represent larger political questions of bifurcation and fairness.

1: Countries will discuss common formats for reporting (in a bifurcated world?)

At COP26, outstanding matters relating to the Enhanced Transparency Framework will be discussed under SBSTA-agenda item 14. This includes scoping out common (tabular) templates and formats for reporting on greenhouse gas emissions, progress in implementing nationally determined contributions, and provision of financial support.

In contrast to earlier transparency provisions, the Enhanced Transparency Framework applies to all countries, with flexibility given to developing countries with limited reporting capacities. However, analyses of existing transparency arrangements under the UNFCCC reveal very different levels of reporting capacities between countries. This, coupled with the fact that some countries are reluctant to step away from a bifurcated system of reporting, might make it very challenging to agree upon common reporting templates.

2: Countries will discuss the Biennial Transparency Report outline: what is in and what is out?

At the core of the Enhanced Transparency Framework is the Biennial Transparency Report, to be submitted by all countries (with special leeway given to least developed countries and small island developing states). The Paris Agreement outlines in broad lines what countries should report on in these Biennial Transparency Reports. This includes as mandatory elements reporting on greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation action (and financial support provided by developed countries), and as voluntary elements reporting on adaptation, climate impacts and financial support needed and received by developing countries.

However, countries have yet to agree on the outline of this Biennial Transparency Report. There is significant division on whether the outline should be the same for all countries, if it should be obligatory to follow the outline, and whether the outline should focus on the mandatory elements of reporting (emissions and mitigation) or also on the voluntary elements.

3: Countries will discuss the Technical Expert Review: what will it (not) cover?

Similar questions arise regarding the outline of Technical Expert Review Reports of the Biennial Transparency Reports. What if countries report on Loss and Damage, should reviewers assess this information? Then there is also the issue of flexibility: developing countries can use flexibility in complying with reporting obligations, depending upon their capacities. But (how) should reviewers take into account flexibility?

This segues into discussions on the training programme for technical expert reviewers. Should the training programme also include an element on Loss and Damage, or is this out of the scope? And what will reviewers learn about considering flexibility provisions?

or will developed countries go a ‘step back’ in terms of the stringency of review they need to undergo?

In fact, these questions about the technical review may only be the start of a much more contentious discussion about what review as a whole will look like under the Enhanced Transparency Framework. Until now, developed countries have faced rather stringent review of their submitted reports (both under the Kyoto Protocol and the UNFCCC) while review of information submitted by developing countries has been much more of a facilitative nature. With the Enhanced Transparency Framework being a common system, the question is what direction the pendulum will swing, will developing countries face more stringent review, or will developed countries go a ‘step back’ in terms of the stringency of review they need to undergo? Or may the review system introduce bifurcated provisions after all? These questions are likely not to be resolved until shortly before the 2024 deadline of the start of the Enhanced Transparency Framework, but COP26 may see some initial careful moves in this debate. 

4: Countries will discuss the Compliance Committee: will the Paris Agreement have teeth?

Another interesting matter for the transparency negotiations is the Paris Agreement’s  committee to facilitate implementation and promote compliance. The Compliance Committee could be a potential puzzle piece in ensuring that disclosed information on performance has consequences. Yet, what will be the role of this committee? Will it have the power to effectively deal with cases of non-compliance? At COP26 the committee will report on their work in 2020 and 2021, and this may be an occasion for discussion on the role of this committee.

5: Countries will discuss the Global Stocktake: what sources of input?

The Global Stocktake is a process with a five-year cycle where collective progress towards achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement is assessed. Its aim is to ‘make visible’ the collective progress of countries, and thus use this information to inform political decisions as basis for the enhancement of countries’ climate plans, the nationally determined contributions. As such, it can be seen as a vital element of the transparency architecture of the Paris Agreement. But an important question remains:  how will information from the Enhanced Transparency Framework be effectively consolidated to meaningfully feed into the Global Stocktake? At COP26 countries will discuss ‘sources of input’ for the Global Stocktake under SBSTA-agenda item 9, thereby further scoping out how the Global Stocktake will take shape.

‘Old transparency’: reporting and review under the UNFCCC

Besides the discussions on how the ‘new’ transparency framework under the Paris Agreement will take shape, COP26 will also feature processes and negotiations on the ‘old transparency’ system of reporting and review under the UNFCCC, which are still in place until 2024.

6: What’s next for the International Assessment and Review and the International Consultation and Analysis?

As part of the International Assessment and Review ten developed countries will undergo Multilateral Assessment. In this session various reports of the country under review will be discussed including Biennial Reports and National Communications. As part of the International Consultation and Analysis seven developing countries will undergo Facilitative Sharing of Views. This session is explicitly facilitative in nature and discusses the Biennial Update Report.

Interestingly, COP26 will also feature negotiations on ‘revision of the modalities and procedures for international assessment and review’ under SBI-agenda item 3(d) and on ‘revision of the modalities and guidelines for international consultation and analysis’ under SBI-agenda item 4(e). What changes may be made for these last three years of review under the ‘old’ system?

7: The future of the Consultative Group of Experts: what is a fair representation?

A key body providing support to developing countries for building reporting capacities is the Consultative Group of Experts. The Consultative Group of Expert is a constituted body under the UNFCCC and has a large representation of developing countries in its membership. To illustrate, the developing to developed countries membership is 10:10 for the Standing Committee on Finance, while it is 15:6 for the Consultative Group of Experts. Developed countries are expected to push at COP26 to get a larger representation in the group. Why this push? And why now? At the same time, not only the membership but also the terms of reference of the Consultative Group of Experts will be under discussion, and developing countries want to expand the mandate of this group, while developed countries are hesitant, especially if their membership is not increased.

8: The interplay between Article 6 and Article 13: transparency around market mechanisms

the rules, modalities and procedures for Article 6 is still under discussion and remain controversial

Last but not least, decisions need to be taken by countries on how to report on the use Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs). Several countries aspire to use of market mechanisms (Article 6) for reducing their GHG emissions, which they also need to state in their NDCs. However, while there is agreement on the modalities, procedures and guidelines for tracking progress and implementing the NDC (Article 13), the rules, modalities and procedures for Article 6 is still under discussion and remain controversial.

The CMA agenda includes agenda item 12(a) on ‘Guidance on cooperative approaches referred to in Article 6, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement’. This guidance could include provisions on reporting and review. An open question is how this reporting and review under article 6 will relate to and interplay with reporting and review under the Enhanced Transparency Framework (Article 13).

Conclusion: transparency as a site of politics

In sum, transparency is one of the main negotiation items at COP26. Its contentious nature indicates that transparency is at the core of the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC, and that countries realize that the details of transparency provisions can be of influence in shaping climate governance directions and outcomes. That said, it remains important to critically interrogate the merits and implications of the growing prominence of transparency in climate governance, through examining the political implications of the negotiation agenda-items noted above, as we do in the TRANSGOV project.

TRANSGOV has representatives at COP26 to cover the latest transparency developments. Follow daily updates via the TRANSGOV twitter.

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