Carbon Accountability and the Paris Agreement

In December 2015, countries negotiated the Paris Agreement on climate change by consensus. They developed and submitted their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions to pledge their action on climate change. Countries ratified the Paris Agreement faster than any major environmental agreement in history. 

What happens next is not so much about the text, but about how we use it to cut emissions and help people adapt. This requires reading between the lines of the Paris Agreement to bridge gaps before they become geopolitical problems inhibiting global action on climate change.

For the first time, Paris Agreement requires all countries to report their greenhouse gas emissions at the highest level of accuracy possible.  One major gap for the implementation of the Paris Agreement is high uncertainty in greenhouse gas emissions, underwritten by an insufficient global cohort of skilled carbon accountants. One starting point: knowing what countries report about greenhouse gas emissions and how this stacks up against third party estimates, including the real greenhouse gas concentrations detected in the atmosphere. More carbon accounting means better carbon accountability, and that leads to lower emissions. We work with decisionmakers to produce analyses that can make that happen.

Where are the 'experts'?

Increasing capacity to build a global cohort of skilled carbon accountants will be key for any future reporting of NDCs and global stocktakes.  However, we found that the global climate change expertise required to do just that is not evenly distributed geographically, by party grouping, or by population.

Annex I parties have an over representation of climate change experts compared to population, as well as the total number of UNFCCC parties by party grouping.

A few caveats to our preliminary research findings: ‘experts’ here are drawn from the roster of national climate change experts maintained by the UNFCCC Secretariat. They are nominated by UNFCCC National Focal Points. These experts may or may not have additional certification. Not all experts are created equal. Further capacity building support may be needed to have a larger impact. Additionally, this list is not always publically updated in a timely manner, and our research has been compiled with the most recent publicly available data.

Uncertain Emissions

By its nature, data never tells 100% of the real story. This is an inherent part of statistical systems. Carefully selected and high-resolution data can paint the right picture, whereas weak data can lead us to the wrong conclusions. Policymakers in the government and private sector need real information to determine how to reduce emissions. Better information allows third parties to verify the reality of the claims.

There are metrics that can point us to the quality of country data on greenhouse gas emissions. We can attempt to measure how much “wiggle room” there is in datasets, the level of “uncertainty.” Uncertainty is the range within which the real greenhouse gas emissions going into the atmosphere may vary from the reported value. Uncertainty involves both inaccuracy (routinely missing the bullseye) and imprecision (spread all over the target). To hit the target, we need to be both accurate and precise.

Better data reduces uncertainty and gets us closer to the real emissions value. Lower uncertainty leads to lower emissions. We’re here to highlight countries’ journey to lower uncertainty so they can move on the path towards low-carbon economies.

Working to Increase Emissions Transparency

Trust & Verify: A rigorous and transparent approach for countries to calculate and publicly report their greenhouse gas emissions is a necessary skeleton to a soft, bottom-up climate change regime.

We work to connect decisionmakers, journalists, and civil society organizations with greenhouse gas professionals and atmospheric scientists. Impact-oriented research into greenhouse gas measuring, reporting, and verification approaches will help to move this discourse forwards.

Our emissions reliability tracking projects are in research phase, and initial results contain sensitivities. For the initial results of our greenhouse gas emissions reliability analyses, we encourage you to contact us.