Choosing indicators for greater transparency

At the core of the Paris Agreement is the transparency framework, which – among other things – allows countries to hold each other accountable to delivering on national commitments. To track the progress of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), governments will need to select appropriate indicators. Here are our main takeaways from the session’s expert contributors on how to do just this:

Katowice guidance: four key steps

The Katowice climate package resulted in a lot of guidance on what is required (and when) in terms of tracking progress on the next round of NDCs. Before implementing climate policies, governments submit an NDC including targets and actions, timeframes and key technical assumptions. During and after implementation, they report on progress or achievements by working through four main steps: 1. clearly defining the target (e.g. a 20% reduction on 2005 emissions by 2030), 2. determining a reference value of the indicator (e.g.  emissions in baseline year 2005 is 100Mt) 3. working out the actual value of the indicator in the reporting year (e.g. in 2024 emissions were 90Mt), and 4. providing a comparison between the baseline and progress to date (e.g. a 10% reduction on 2005 emissions  by 2024).

Select appropriate indicators that reflect your commitments

It is important to draft commitments that can be measured using robust and sensible indicators. An obvious indicator would be emissions, but there may be other indicators to consider, for example, indicators based on a percentage change. If you have sectoral targets, you should use separate indicators for each one.

Indicators can be politicised

There can be a political dimension to the choice of indicators, as they are sometimes used to say different things to different audiences. For example, the story that most governments want to tell is one of emissions reduction, as talking about a percentage decrease can communicate better to public audiences than absolute values of ‘tonnes of carbon equivalent avoided’, which can sound meaningless or small when taken out of context. To be transparent, it may be a good idea to provide the full underlying data regardless of the choice of indicators, so that everyone can understand the whole story.

How do I choose a base year?

When it come to choosing a base year, some countries select a year that gives continuity. However, politics can come into play here too, as you can choose a year which gives favourable results. Some countries said they chose base years that were popular with other countries to aid comparison, while others opted for a more recent year, as better data was available.

Keep in mind updates

Every target needs a reference value (often a baseline year or a business as usual projection), but this value may need to be updated over time. Good questions include: Should I use a static or dynamic baseline? How often should I update it? the Katowice climate package has guidance on this to avoid methodological inconsistency and improve accuracy (bearing in mind this is only mandatory for the second round of NDCs).

As countries are free to choose their own indicators, the first Global Stocktake due to take place in 2023 will involve a lot of digging to see if we’re on track for delivering the Paris Agreement. One element of the Katowice guidance that will help is the requirement for countries to provide an updated communication of their total greenhouse gas emissions.

Reporting by Paul May, CDKN, 12 June 2019.

This blog is a rapid round-up of discussions during the breakout session ‘Tracking progress of the NDCs’ on Day 1 of the conference. Watch this space for the official ‘key messages’ published after the concluding session, and check out blogs by the rest of the team on the conference’s other key themes of governance and finance.

Photos: Martin Magunia/Mettle/NDC