At the COP 21 conference in Paris this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry demanded that any climate agreement include a legally binding “transparency system.” He said this would keep world governments accountable and demonstrate that participating nations are truly committed to fighting climate change. What makes this request especially interesting is Kerry’s motivation: he explained Wednesday this added reassurance isn’t just for the sake of the participating governments, but also for private investors who may be interested in clean energy.
In his primary speech to delegates, Kerry stated, “What we’re doing is sending the marketplace an extraordinary signal – that those 186 countries are really committed – and that helps the private sector to move capital into that, knowing there’s a future that is committed to this sustainable path.”
What the Secretary of State is not proposing, however, is a set of legally binding targets all countries must meet. While imposing the same set of standards across the board would probably be ideal, his plan acknowledges the fact that many nations — including the US — are unlikely to accept targets set by an outside body. Instead, he would ask each country to set its own targets and then report back on their progress to the UN.
The system Kerry proposes would include three main elements. First, nations would be required to take inventory of their current greenhouse gas emissions and submit them to the UN. Then, they would need to report on whatever actions they’ve decided to take and the amount of progress they’ve made. Finally, the UN climate change agency would send experts to independently verify the inventories and reports.
While it would be only a small part of the fight against climate change, building in a system to keep the world’s nations accountable would be a vital step in avoiding the failures of past international climate talks.