To speed up climate action, get serious about transparency, say experts

Reporting coherent data, policy impacts, and money flows is key to meeting climate goals, say panelists at COP28
A researcher for peatland restoration project PT Rimba Makmur Utama in the Central Kalimantan, Indonesia measures peat surface elevation change using a rod surface elevation table (rSET). Photo by Sigit Deni Sasmito/CIFOR-ICRAF

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As the international community races to limit global warming to 1.5°C, countries must get serious about monitoring and reporting accurately on their progress, across all fronts—funding flows, policies, and national greenhouse gas inventories. 

This is especially relevant given the first biennial transparency reports under the Paris Agreement are due in December 2024, said speakers at an official side event organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in collaboration with the Central Africa Forests Commission (COMIFAC) and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) during the UN Climate Summit (COP28) in Dubai.

At the event, which took place on 4 December, representatives of scientific, non-profit, governmental, and Indigenous peoples’ communities agreed that transparency is essential to ensure the responsibility and accountability of all countries and actors in the context of the Paris Agreement. 

“To speed things up, transparency issues must be resolved,” said Christopher Martius, team leader for Climate Change, Energy and Low-Carbon Development at CIFOR-ICRAF. “Better data coherence can increase trust and accountability, as can improved participation and access to data.”

For example, different approaches to calculate emissions from land currently result in considerable discrepancies, an issue that CIFOR and partners at German Earth sciences research centre GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam have researched in relation to carbon fluxes from tropical forests. The work shows how the use of forest definitions (e.g., what is a ‘managed forest’?), and the setting of emission and removal factors (what is the amount of carbon emitted, or soaked up, by a given piece of forest?) can provide quite different results on the size of forest emissions and sinks. Martius then emphasized the need for countries to further harmonize their methods of calculating inputs to their greenhouse gas inventories, which can be aided by Earth Observation.

“Urgent climate action is needed, and reducing every fraction of a degree matters; therefore, it makes sense to identify where emissions can be reduced fastest,” said Martius. And forests can play an important role in preserving the biodiversity and the ecosystem services that underpin the global land and climate systems, while sustaining the livelihoods and nutrition of around 2.4 billion people globally, he concluded.

Monitoring climate policies

Tracking and evaluating the impact of climate policies is crucial to know whether efforts and investments are paying off in each region, and to give insight into how they might be reoriented if required. The toolkit of policy options is broad, from increasing enforcement and sanctioning illegal activities, to rewarding regenerative farming with payment for ecosystem services, targeting supply chain actors, and increasing tenure security so that land users can enforce their rights. 

But which policy measures are likely to work where? And how might countries and experts approach, in a more systematic manner, the monitoring of policies to limit forest loss?

“The outcome of policies depends on their design and implementation, but also on the context where they are rolled out,” said Julia Naime, who is currently an advisor with Rainforest Foundation Norway, and has researched deforestation diagnostics as part of CIFOR-ICRAF’s Global Comparative Study on REDD+, which is led by Martius.

The researchers identified a range of different contexts according to deforestation histories, rates of forest loss, and risks and drivers of deforestation (such as land use change). Then, they examined three broad types of forest conservation policies—incentives like REDD+, disincentives like fines, and enabling measures such as land titling—and analyzed how they fared in each of those contexts.

“For greater policy impact, decision-makers should prioritize the forest areas that are most under threat,” said Naime. By providing this type of insight, and a more structured way of monitoring and comparing policy impacts, the deforestation diagnosis framework can help countries advance their reporting commitments alongside their climate goals.

Climate transparency in Africa

The Paris Agreement requires all countries to follow a common set of guidelines to report on their emissions, funding, and progress towards national climate goals, although it affords developing countries some flexibility in light of their capacities. 

“African countries can meet the challenge of the Enhanced Transparency Framework by updating their legal and regulatory frameworks, improving information management and developing national capacities,” said Gervais Itsoua Madzous, regional coordinator for the  Regional Climate Action Transparency Hub of the Central Africa States (ReCATH). 

The Hub helps the 11 members of the Economic Community for Central African States build sound transparency frameworks, supporting their efforts to meet the reporting requirements, while advancing climate adaptation and mitigation. 

“That work must be done on a non-punitive, non intrusive basis, with strict respect for the circumstances and the sovereignty of States,” said Itsoua, who noted they conduct national workshops on matters related to climate transparency like governance, data flows and stakeholder engagement.

For Diel Mochire, a representative of the Network of Indigenous and Local Populations for the Sustainable Management of Forest Ecosystems in Central Africa (REPALEAC), participation and equity are central to climate transparency. 

“We need to take into account the perspectives of Indigenous people,” said Mochire, pointing out that it starts with the legal recognition of their existence and the respect for their rights to life, land and culture. 

For example, the experiences and views of communities can be particularly relevant in informing countries’ assessments on climate change impacts and adaptation, and on support needed to face global warming.

Global funding flows

The Paris Agreement requires developed countries to report on the funding they provide and mobilize, and recipients to inform about what they receive, to increase transparency and accountability on both ends. 

“Indigenous people are asking for more direct, accountable, and transparent funding,” said Leif John Fosse, senior adviser at Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative (NICFI). Among other initiatives, the country supports the Tenure Funders Group, created in the wake of COP26 as bilateral donors and philanthropies pledged USD 1.7 billion to advance the forest tenure rights of local communities and Indigenous peoples.

Fosse says the group seeks to enhance donors’ collaboration and coordination, and improve data systems so it is clear what money goes where and through which channels—a task that is “quite a challenge for a few donors,” he said.

Another priority is periodically reviewing their portfolios against investment principles that recognize the role of communities in forest governance, as well as building the capacity of Indigenous and local organizations to directly, and transparently, manage climate funds.

CIFOR-ICRAF CEO Éliane Ubalijoro closed the event, reminding stakeholders they are not alone in addressing the reporting requirements of the Paris Agreement, or in working to respond to a changing climate.

 “We want to continue working with countries and Indigenous and local communities as trusted partners, making relevant data, evidence, and methods available for climate action,” she concluded.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Climate change