Learn lessons from European climate monitoring to make Paris Agreement a success, warn scientists

Scientists have warned that high hopes for the success of the Paris Agreement could be dashed if lessons aren’t learnt from the challenges and experiences of climate monitoring in Europe.

The long term success of the Agreement depends on the availability of well-designed and functioning monitoring and review mechanisms, according to a study published in the journal Climate Policy.

As the 22nd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in Marrakech draws to a close, researchers from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) stress that, without strong, credible monitoring and transparency procedures, national pledges to address climate change in the spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement will not build sufficient global trust.

The study looks closely at the EU’s experience with monitoring national climate policies in order to understand what challenges may arise in ensuring transparency. The EU has one of the most advanced monitoring systems in the world – but it still encounters persistent challenges that, crucially, could jeopardize the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The international community should therefore draw on the EU’s valuable experiences and also difficulties in monitoring climate policies in order to develop the practice further.

The research identified that the EU’s current approach to monitoring climate policies – largely borrowed from monitoring greenhouse gases, which is a vastly different task – has not supported in depth learning and debate on the performance of individual policies. Other important obstacles include political concerns over the costs of reporting, control, and the perceived usefulness of the information produced.

Jonas Schoenefeld, the lead author, said: “An important part of the implementation of the Paris Agreement will hinge on whether political actors can muster the leadership in order to successfully navigate monitoring challenges at the international level. The EU’s experience shows that incorporating policies into NDCs should be seen as one step in a long journey to better knowledge of climate policies.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement marked a shift towards countries making emission reduction pledges known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and a new Transparency Framework (Article 13) requiring regular progress reports on pledges to address climate change. While the quick ratification of the Paris Agreement is a sign that the international community is eager to make progress, setting up a strong and effective transparency framework requires hard work for years to come.

Mr Schoenefeld stressed that the willingness of countries to remain engaged is vital: “A key strength of the Paris Agreement is that so many countries are part of it and are willing to engage. Disengagement or even withdrawal could therefore imperil the whole Agreement and have grave ramifications for the set-up of a strong monitoring system.”

Professor Mikael Hildén from the Finnish Environment Institute, who co-authored the study, said: “Monitoring is probably the most underestimated challenge in implementing the Paris Agreement. In the past, it has been seen as a technical, data gathering task. We show that it is anything but a mere reporting exercise.”

Professor Andrew Jordan from the Tyndall Centre, co-author, said: “Implementing more advanced monitoring at the international level will require substantial political efforts, resources, and leadership. In order to justify such investments to the public, care needs to be taken to ensure that monitoring information is used effectively to improve policy, rather than as a weapon to lay blame when things slip.”