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The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

Research report

Written by Leo Peskett

Research report

Verification of gas emissions faces particular problems of uncertainty, because of their intangibility, the variety of factors that influence them, and continuing disagreements on the monitoring methodologies. Verification under the UNFCCC aims to test compliance with the binding GHG emissions reduction targets identified in the Kyoto Protocol. The paper describes the verification system, which is managed by an international secretariat but based on national reporting. The Protocol has only recently come into force, making the effectiveness of some of the verification tools difficult to assess, although experience has been gained from gradual improvements made since the Treaty was first developed. The system has some innovative features (for example, Expert Review Teams, Designated Operational Entities, and a complex compliance methodology), and these may be of wider relevance in verification systems design.

Policy conclusions

  1. Verification of highly technical matters such as greenhouse gas reductions is a challenging area which must accommodate competing pressures; decentralisation of reporting responds to a political expedient (national sovereignty) but rapidly comes up against major capacity constraints (the lack of qualified technical personnel, particularly for Parties in the South). Financial incentives and technical support may be required to address these constraints, and the UNFCCC offers an interesting approach in these areas, though the investments are considerable.
  2. As with other treaties, the essence of effective verification under the UNFCCC lies in self-reporting according to a prescribed set of formats, backed up by a variety of institutional mechanisms to cross-check findings. The credibility of such an arrangement depends heavily on the effectiveness of the measures put in place to protect the system from political interference.
  3. Transparency and efficiency are desirable standards for any monitoring system. Where the system departs from a straightforward recording of observable phenomena, then the implications for verification are demanding. This is the case with the ‘additionality' and ‘sustainability' criteria for the Clean Development Mechanism.
  4. The Kyoto Protocol offers an innovative two-part compliance procedure (involving facilitation and enforcement); this acknowledges the fact that this is new territory for all of the Parties.
  5. Sanctions need to be applied in a way which encourages compliance, and liability should reinforce governance. Conversely, where liability is at odds with governance, then compliance is likely to be undermined. The debates within the UNFCCC on buyer and seller liability underline this point.
  6. Non-governmental actors may have important roles to play in areas that formal verification fails to cover adequately (such as mechanisms with high social impact); they may also encourage compliance where internal controls are weak.
  7. Where a treaty imposes significant costs on its Parties, inclusiveness is a prerequisite for effectiveness; in the present instance, the presence of powerful non-Parties is a matter of some concern.
Leo Peskett and David Brown