As the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) continues in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, ARTICLE 19 calls on states to intensify efforts to implement stronger transparency obligations agreed in the Paris Climate Agreement, which came into force in 2020.
In the Paris Agreement, countries committed to take action to limit global average temperature increases to 1.5C above the pre-industrial level. However, over the last year, there has been very limited progress in reducing the immense emissions gap for 2030. A recent UN Environment Programme’s Emissions Gap Report 2022 found there was ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’ and that ‘woefully inadequate’ progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a ‘rapid transformation of societies’. It is clear that the gap between the pledges and the emissions reductions needed to achieve the temperature goal is falling too short.
ARTICLE 19 believes that efforts to address climate change must be rooted in transparency and governments’ actions being accountable. Transparency is not a single policy tool. We call on states to ensure that transparency is a key component to climate change action.
Transparency as part of a global stocktake process
Transparency is a key tool to strengthen and monitor states’ commitments to address climate change. At the national level, governments commit to producing timely, accessible and standardised reports on the implementation and achievement of their national objectives (also known as Nationally Determined Contributions, or ‘NDCs’) derived from the Paris Agreement. These include Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), project monitoring and compliance, and regular state of the environment reports, for which states are required to identify key policy changes essential for protecting, preserving and enhancing the environment. More substantial steps include proactively publishing reasons for decisions taken for approving, rejecting or modifying development projects following EIA procedures.
Together, these reports have helped enable a global assessment of collective progress. Peer assessment of the publicly available information builds up fair competition for states’ reporting and enhances their accountability, both nationally and globally. Through this process, countries gain the opportunity to learn from each other by sharing achievements, best practices and experiences.
From 2024, the enhanced transparency framework (ETF) will be enforced and all countries that have ratified the Paris Agreement will follow a single, universal transparency process. The ETF will cover all aspects of the Paris Agreement that countries will be asked to report on, with a degree of flexibility, and this will continue to be made available to developing countries. The 2021 summit in Glasgow saw the development of common reporting tables and formats for reporting information and outlines of the reports.
ARTICLE 19 calls on states to take the global stocktake process seriously by including meaningful and relevant information as a minimum standard for their reporting and ensuring this is strengthened at every review cycle in order to ensure that the global assessment reflects the reality of measures and allow concrete actions to be taken in a timely manner.
Transparency as a tool for civic participation
Public participation must be a part of procedures that assess and mitigate environmental harms, and in the preparation of environmental impact assessments and relevant policy-making,
The participation of stakeholders and communities with vested interests has proved to improve the legitimacy of decisions, help build stakeholder capacity and strengthen implementation. However, public participation is often inconsistent, and it should apply systematically to all levels of government. Full implementation of public participation means that every individual, including people in marginalised communities, should know about their right to participate and should be provided with ample guidance on how, when and where to exercise their right to participation. Access to environmental information motivates and empowers people to participate in an informed manner. We know that poor communities are the most severely impacted by disasters linked to the global climate emergency.
ARTICLE 19 calls on states to consider public participation and access to information as essential to ensure the public is educated about the effects of climate change. They should ensure laws on access to environmental information are effectively implemented and populations at risk, including indigenous communities, can engage in decision-making processes affecting them.
Corporate environmental transparency
Since the Conference of the Parties in Paris in 2015, the corporate sector has been considered to be one of the most important actors in the fight against global warming. Governments have imposed transparency on corporations through bringing in laws and regulations, and corporations are required to comply with government regulations and share environmental information. They must also inform and update stakeholders about what they are doing to reduce gas emissions, resulting in greater accountability.
In turn, corporations have seen a positive impact on their businesses through their voluntary and proactive commitments to greater transparency. Transparency has enhanced businesses’ reputations, boosted competitive advantage and helped to uncover risks and opportunities, track benchmark progress and allow access to lower costs of capital. Crucially, it has also provided opportunities to engage with stakeholders about environmental and social impact.
In addition, firms’ internal governance structures and external control systems enhance the transparency of environmental disclosure. Many private companies have taken steps to show they are taking climate impact very seriously by institutionalising oversight of their climate-related performance. An impressive 88% say they have appointed someone with responsibility for climate strategy, and 70% have established board-level oversight.
ARTICLE 19 calls on corporations to proactively disclose information related to the impact of their actions on climate change in an accurate and timely manner. They should also facilitate public watchdogs such as civil society, journalists, media, activists, researchers and other stakeholders to access environmental information as a way to build trust, and as a form of accountability to customers and to the public in general.