Easier in theory than in practice: The nitty-gritty details of monitoring climate policies and emissions

Stefan Bößner of the Stockholm Environment Institute participated in the EIONET (European Environment Information and Observation Network) workshop on the details of emissions reporting and the challenges of getting reliable data on climate change policies. For two days, Member State representatives, European Commission officials and research institutions discussed how to improve reporting on emissions and pondered the effectiveness of policies deemed to reduce them, offering important insights into the complex world of climate change mitigation data usage.

During the first day it became clear that generating information on climate change mitigation policies and measures (PaMs), is still a relatively young discipline. Although models for ex-ante (forecasted) calculations of emission savings are becoming established, it was only with the entering into force of the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 and following the adoption of the second EU energy and climate package in 2008 that systematic data collection on climate policies really took off. EU rules specifically ask Member States to continuously monitor, report and verify their emissions, and provide information about their mitigation policies. This is of great importance for taking climate change action.  

First, it is important because only policies based on robust evidence are likely to deliver emission reductions in the long run. Second, since the adoption of the Paris Agreement, a shift towards a more bottom-up approach to tackle climate change has taken place. This makes information about how exactly countries intend to fight global warming and lessons learnt on how to do so effectively essential. Indeed, the Paris Agreement puts in place review systems to ensure that nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – the action plans setting out countries’ mitigation targets – deliver tangible results towards limiting global warming to 2 and possibly 1.5 degrees Celsius. Those systems can only function properly if the right information is made available in a transparent fashion.

However, getting the right data is not as straightforward as it seems. As an initial CARISMA scoping study of 24 databases containing information on policies to tackle climate change has shown, only a few of those databases elucidate the costs of these policies and their actual impact on emissions. On the second day of the workshop it became clear that this type of information is not only hard to come by for researchers, but also for governments and their agencies – who are often the direct source for databases. Several challenges came to the fore and were discussed.

For instance, there is the problem of overburdening national administrations. EU Member States have several reporting obligations, not only under EU rules, but also under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The reporting requirements of the latter are embedded in the EU’s Monitoring Mechanism Regulation (MMR), while EU policies demand reports not only for issue-specific Directives (e.g. on energy efficiency and renewable energy), but also for overall strategies such as the EU Energy Union initiative. Here, it becomes apparent that streamlining and bringing different reporting strands together would be a welcome step to reduce the bureaucratic burden for Member States.

Smaller countries in particular struggle to find enough human and financial capacity to respond to all reporting requirements in a timely manner. But also within Member States, there may be room for improvement. Sometimes, sub-optimal communication between national institutions and a lack of national reporting provisions makes it difficult for countries to come up with the right data. European institutions, such as the European Environment Agency (EEA), which hosted the workshop, already provide guidance for Member States on how to report on policies, but these could be improved by providing best practice examples of reporting.  

But then there are also technical issues such as the difficulties of linking estimated or even verified emission reductions to a specific policy. And while models and scenarios often exist ex-ante, ex-post (actual) evaluation after a certain period is often not carried out due to resource constraints and the complexity of disentangling empirical effects of a certain policy from other emission reducing factors such as economic cycles or weather conditions.

And last but not least, one could add a political dimension to the challenges of data gathering. Information such as the costs of policies are often not reported simply because this sort of information proves to be a sensitive issue; power dynamics between governing institutions are often a hindering factor. Think for example about coalition governments, where different ministries are staffed by different parties and where opinions of objectives and priorities might diverge.

However, one must not forget that the EU and its Member States have come a long way. A wealth of data is increasingly available and many Member States showcased innovative approaches to climate change data gathering. Over time, models and calculation methods have become more sophisticated and workshops such as this one facilitate the exchange of best practice approaches, allowing participators to learn from each other. There remains much room for improvement, but given the institutional complexity of bringing together 28 (soon 27?) Member States to report on climate policies, the achievements so far must not be overlooked.

 Stefan Bößner's Blog - Uploaded on 09/09/2016

* The viewpoints expressed are those of the authors.
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