Torsten Blackwood

Climate Change and Climate Change Reporting: the Double Burden for Small Island Developing States

Torsten Blackwood

The Climate Change Conference currently underway in Bonn brings together negotiators from around the world to continue discussions on climate change action and in preparation for the COP22. A new addition to this conference is the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), which is holding its first meeting to lay the groundwork for executing the agreement. Among others, the APA will consider modalities and further guidance for several articles of the agreement, including Article 13 on the transparency framework for action and support and Article 14 on global stocktake.

Reporting on climate change provides important inputs to the transparency framework and the global stocktake. The need for reporting stems from climate change being featured at the forefront of international policy developments. Two examples include Number 13 of the Sustainable Development Goals to “take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts” and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction calling for more dedicated action to tackle climate change as an underlying disaster risk driver. It also stems from the two degrees target agreed at the Paris conference, the achievement of which demands improved information to support the analysis of climate change and enhance mitigation and adaptation efforts.

The transparency framework helps ensure that efforts to address climate change are genuine. A global stocktake can provide an overview of the collective progress towards achieving the agreement’s goals and, subsequently, inform parties in updating and enhancing their actions, support and international cooperation. For these reasons, reporting is well and good. Nevertheless, reporting should be supportive for developing countries, particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS). As SIDS are already unfairly burdened by climate change, excessive reporting will divert their resources and attention away from efforts to adequately respond.

SIDS have consistently called for a minimization of undue reporting and understandably so, since they typically have low capacity in terms of data collection, analysis and report writing. Quite often, their statistical offices are already strained because of onerous reporting. Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are asked to submit periodic reports in the form of national communications (NCs) and biennial update reports (BURs). While SIDS may submit the BURs at their own discretion, they are nonetheless required to submit their first NC within three years of entering the UNFCCC and every four years thereafter. Detailing a country’s priorities, implementation and support needs, plans and actions, NCs often contain more than 100 pages of text.

Moreover, reporting to the UNFCCC takes place on top of other reporting requirements. These may include reports to donors at the national level, to regional organizations such as the Caribbean Community, the Pacific Community, and the Indian Ocean Commission, as well as other multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) with their own provisions for reporting on compliance.

In recognizing the importance of accurate and timely data for implementing and monitoring the Paris Agreement, how can this be balanced against the reporting burden that places unnecessary strains on the respective authorities of SIDS?

First, the report recipient bodies should provide support to the SIDS governments to enable better and less burdensome reporting. SIDS generally lack governing capacity from limited human capital and financial resources. Support should involve establishing monitoring networks and supplying equipment to gather data as well as information systems to store and manage the data, training staff on analysis and report writing, and providing data analysis tools. Modern technology, such as (sustainability) reporting software currently used by businesses, could enhance the extraction of climate data and generate analysis in automated processes, thereby reducing reporting cost.

Second, guidance on reporting should extend beyond standardized reporting templates within the UNFCCC alone. A handbook for measurement, reporting, and verification for developing countries, published by the UNFCCC secretariat, describes the key elements to be reported and how this should be completed, but it does not explain how data from existing mechanisms that SIDS are a part of could be utilized to reduce the workload of governmental officials.

Third, there is a lack of consistency among the reporting requirements of existing recipient bodies, as well as inadequate communication and data sharing among them. A coherent approach, certainly at the global level (e.g. similar reporting processes among MEAs) and to the extent possible at national and regional levels (e.g. collective reporting for groupings of projects and countries, submitted by donors or a single regional body) would be a good start to address the former challenge.

For the latter, a centralized database containing data on key indicators that SIDS can easily tap into could provide readily useable data for a variety of purposes, including climate change reporting. Such data can come from project donors, national, regional and international bodies that request relevant reports. The reverse is also true. Information about some of the key components of national communication, for example the national circumstances and institutional arrangements, implemented or planned mitigation and adaptation, awareness raising and capacity building, and financial, technical and capacity constraints and gaps, could be used for “non-climate” purposes.

The purpose of reporting should be to facilitate a clear understanding of parties’ climate change action and to inform a global stocktake. Too many reports and onerous requirements will inhibit this purpose. It remains to be seen whether the issue of reporting burden will be raised directly in Bonn. At a minimum, it is likely to feature as an implicit concern given its relevance to several items on the conference’s agenda.

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