The crucial role of policy surveillance in international climate policy

Abstract

An extensive literature shows that information-creating mechanisms enhance the transparency of and can support participation and compliance in international agreements. This paper draws from game theory, international relations, and legal scholarship to make the case for how transparency through policy surveillance can facilitate more effective international climate change policy architecture. I draw lessons from policy surveillance in multilateral economic, environmental, and national security contexts to inform a critical evaluation of the historic practice of monitoring and reporting under the global climate regime. This assessment focuses on how surveillance produces evidence to inform policy design, enables comparisons of mitigation effort, and illustrates the adequacy of the global effort in climate agreements. I also describe how the institution of policy surveillance can facilitate a variety of climate policy architectures. This evaluation of policy surveillance suggests that transparency is necessary for global climate policy architecture.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Satellite imaging data can be accessed at http://www.dgi.inpe.br/CDSR/.

  2. 2.

    Emphasis added. Available online at: http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/cop1/07a01.pdf.

  3. 3.

    Subak et al. (1993) published data on CO2, CH4, and N2O emissions for 142 countries. I constructed the Annex B aggregate from the paper’s appendix, which omits two very small Annex B nations (Monaco and Liechtenstein) and includes 15 Non-Annex B countries in the calculation of Annex B aggregate emissions (circa 1988 Soviet Union and Yugoslavia are included among these Non-Annex B countries). Non-Annex B emissions are constructed as the difference between the reported world emissions and this Annex B aggregate estimate.

  4. 4.

    I use the terms “Annex B” and “Annex I” interchangeably to represent industrialized countries since their memberships are nearly identical.

  5. 5.

    Since developing countries have traditionally had a larger share of land use CO2 and methane emissions, their share of total global greenhouse gas emissions in 2011 may well approach two-thirds. The absence of a credible monitoring regime complicates this assessment.

  6. 6.

    Refer to Aldy and Pizer (2014) for a detailed discussion of metrics for comparing mitigation effort among parties to the UNFCCC.

  7. 7.

    Nearly a year after the Copenhagen talks, the United Nations Environment Programme (2010) produced the first of a series of “emissions gap” reports that estimated the emission impacts of countries’ Copenhagen Accord emission goals, policies, and actions, most of which were incorporated in the Cancun Agreements. This report focused on the aggregate impact of the pledged emission commitments, and paid less attention to the comparability of commitments. In 2012, as a part of the Cancun Agreements (Decision 1/CP.16, paragraph 38), the UNFCCC secretariat organized a workshop to clarify the assumptions and expected outcomes of Annex I emission pledges through 2020. Some countries appear to have approached this “clarification” process as an opportunity to increase information flow and enhance transparency, while others have approached this as an opportunity to push for more ambitious emission mitigation commitments.

  8. 8.

    The UNEP “gap reports” provide some information on country emission pledges, especially with respect to emission levels, but focus less attention on design, implementation, efficacy, and costs of policies.

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Acknowledgments

Scott Barrett, Roger Fouquet, Bard Harstad, Trevor Houser, Jonathan Pershing, Billy Pizer, Rob Stavins, Rob Stowe, three referees and the editor, and participants at the 2008 Third Atlantic Workshop on Energy and Environmental Economics provided comments on an earlier version of this paper. Sarah Cannon, Napat Jatusripitak, Ryan Powell, and Sarah Szambelan provided valuable research assistance. Support for this work has been provided by the Harvard Project on Climate Agreements.

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Correspondence to Joseph E. Aldy.

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Aldy, J.E. The crucial role of policy surveillance in international climate policy. Climatic Change 126, 279–292 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-014-1238-5

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Keywords

  • International Monetary Fund
  • World Trade Organization
  • Climate Policy
  • Climate Change Policy
  • International Climate Policy