• Transparency mechanisms, introduced with the UNFCCC and strengthened by the Paris Agreement, allow the monitoring of countries’ progress and facilitate international cooperation.
  • The Biennial Transparency Reports (BTRs), to be presented for the first time this year, provide a more complete and accessible picture of countries’ climate progress.
  • The reports are evaluated by a team of specialized experts to ensure their transparency.

The fight against climate change represents a global challenge that requires extraordinary commitment from all countries. To address this challenge effectively, it is critical that the actions taken by each nation are transparent, verifiable and ambitious. This is where transparency mechanisms come into play, as crucial tools for building mutual trust and facilitating international collaboration.

Transparency mechanisms were introduced under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. The main objective was to create a system that would allow countries to monitor each other’s progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in the implementation of adaptation strategies to climate impacts.

Since then, the evolution of this negotiating topic has had various developments: from COP24 in Katowice (here is our in-depth article) to COP26 in Glasgow (articles here and here).

The establishment of transparency mechanisms was based on two fundamental principles:

  • Equity: All countries, regardless of their level of development, have a responsibility to contribute to the fight against climate change and to share their information in a transparent way.
  • Trust: Transparency is essential for building trust between countries, facilitating cooperation and collective action.

Transparency mechanisms are based on different types of reports that countries are required to submit regularly to the UNFCCC. Among these, the most important are:

  • National Communications (NC): Comprehensive reports detailing actions taken by a country to address climate change. NCs have been introduced since the adoption of the UNFCCC in 1992. Article 12 of the Convention requires all Parties to submit NCs periodically and, since the entry into force of the Convention, they have been submitted every four years.
  • Biennial Updated Reports (BUR): more concise, simplified reports that provide an update on a country’s progress between the NCs, presented every two years. Their aim is therefore to provide an update on a country’s progress in implementing its climate commitments. They were established in Warsaw in 2013 during COP19, and subsequently strengthened by the Paris Agreement.
  • Biennial Reports (BR): similar to BURs, but presented only by Annex I countries (the so-called developed countries).

These reports are not, however, to be confused with NDCs or other reports geared towards planning countries’ climate goals. These are, in fact, reports aimed solely at taking a snapshot of the current and past state of the situation in the country in question.

Something is about to change, though. This year, in fact, a new mechanism will be introduced that will replace the BUR: the Biennial Transparency Reports (BTR), to be presented for the first time by 31 December 2024 according to the new Enhanced Transparency Framework, i.e. the new rules adopted in Paris in 2015. The aim is to offer a more complete and accessible view of progress, and to overcome the dichotomy of the Kyoto Protocol (i.e. industrialized countries versus non-industrialised countries). These will have to be submitted on a biennial basis by all countries, developed and developing ones. 

Compared to the previous system, BTRs include information on adaptation, loss and damage, financing and progress towards objectives established at national and international levels. Additionally, they can include short-term goals (such as Singapore’s goal of net zero by 2050) or inventories of carbon sinks (such as the forests that cover 88% of Gabon’s surface).

Finally, the framework within which these mechanisms are inserted passes from MRV (Measurements, Reports and Verifications of climate-altering gasses) to ETF (Enhanced Transparency Framework), as we described in this article.

These mechanisms were discussed at the intermediate negotiations in Bonn. In particular, the topic of economic aid to countries that need it for the implementation of this mechanism was addressed. Making such a detailed inventory is, in fact, an important economic effort, since, for example, in some developing or transition countries, the institutions responsible for collecting and analyzing data on greenhouse gasses and on climate change mitigation actions may not have the adequate human, financial or technological resources to prepare complete and accurate BTRs, or they may have problems relating to the preparation of emissions’ inventories. For this reason, institutions have been set up that are providing funds in this direction: the Global Environment Facility (also for the drafting of the NDCs), the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), United Nations Development Program and United Nations Environment Programme.

Another point that was discussed at these negotiations is the mechanism for reviewing these reports to guarantee their reliability, but above all their “consistency”, i.e. coherence, solidity. The revision of a BTR has an average duration of eight to ten months, divided into different phases. The analysis of the report is done by a team of independent experts from different regions of the world and with specific expertise in the field of climate change, selected by the UNFCCC on the basis of rigorous criteria of competence, experience and impartiality.

This year, 1.090 were selected.

A crucial aspect of the review process is the on-site visit to the country that submitted the BTR. This one-week phase is repeated several times throughout the review, and allows experts to gather additional information and interact with national authorities and local stakeholders. The on-site review is essential to verify the accuracy of the information contained in the BTR, and to understand the national context in which climate policies have been implemented.

The review of the BTRs is based on a rigorous methodology, which involves the use of different evaluation techniques:

  • comparison with the guidelines established by the UNFCCC;
  • assessment of the consistency of the information with other data sources; 
  • interviews with national authorities and local stakeholders.

The review ends with the drafting of a TER (Technical Expert Review) review report which is based on Decision 18/CMA1 which describes the results of the assessment, and provides recommendations to the country to improve the quality of its future BTRs. For this purpose, an ad hoc platform for dialogue between the parties called FMCP (Facilitative Multilateral Consideration of Progress) was created.

This year the state of Andorra was celebrated, as the first state ever to have delivered its BTR, even 14 months before the deadline. For this reason, yesterday, 6 June 2024, the UNFCCC presented its TER. Even if Andorra is a small country, and this may lead one to believe that it is easier to compile these reports, on the other hand its difficulty is the lack of national experts. The case of the small Pyrenean state therefore underlines once again the importance of having national expertise, an increasingly important resource in this constantly evolving world.

In conclusion, transparency mechanisms have played a critical role in strengthening global governance on climate change. By enabling independent monitoring of progress and facilitating cross-country comparisons, these tools should help to raise ambition, because awareness of actions taken by other countries can push many to increase their emissions’ reduction targets and identify areas of improvement, but above all to strengthen trust between them, facilitating international cooperation and the mobilization of financial resources.

Transparency mechanisms therefore represent a fundamental pillar of the international climate change regime.

Article by Anna Pelicci, Italian Climate Network Volunteer

Cover image: by Anna Pelicci

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