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Open Government Commitments Critical to Achieving the Paris Agreement

Eliza Northrop|

Last month, the Open Government Partnership’s (OGP) newly-established Open Climate Working Group held its first meeting. Chaired by World Resources Institute and the Government of France, the Working Group focuses on harnessing the power of open government to drive the ambitious climate action needed to achieve the Paris Agreement on climate change.

But how will countries’ efforts to promote transparency, accountability and public participation help them fulfill their Paris Agreement obligations? Why is it important for governments to prioritize making climate data more accessible, decision-making and implementation more participatory, and their public institutions more accountable?

Despite being separate international fora, OGP and the Paris Agreement offer synergistic processes for countries that want to move further, faster.

Unpacking the Paris Agreement

On December 12, 2015, 196 countries adopted the Paris Agreement, a global pact that sets the world on course to a zero-carbon, resilient, prosperous and fair future. Signatories pledged to limit global average temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Nations also committed to increase climate-vulnerable communities’ ability to adapt to the impacts of a warming world and to make financial flows consistent with a low-carbon and climate-resilient pathway. To achieve such ambitious goals, participating governments agreed to the following rules:

  • Countries are required to put forward national climate targets—known as nationally determined contributions or NDCs—every five years. Each successive NDC is expected to be more ambitious than previous commitments.

  • Countries must submit regular reports to the international community that detail:

    • National greenhouse gas emissions;

    • Progress on implementing their climate targets;

    • Climate change impacts; and

    • Climate finance provided, needed and received.

  • Every five years, countries will collectively conduct a “Global Stocktake” to assess implementation of the Agreement and collective progress towards achieving its long-term objective.

Using Open Government to Strengthen Paris Agreement Implementation

Domestically, governments must now establish the necessary mechanisms to meet these international obligations. Such steps cannot be limited to specific mitigation and adaptation policies. Rather, countries must also focus on cultivating public support for ambitious climate action, holding governments accountable to their NDCs, and collecting and sharing the data needed to track progress. OGP commitments, and open government reforms more broadly, can help nations build the infrastructure they need to realize the Paris Agreement.

Benefits of adopting an open government for climate action approach include:

  • Establishing greater trust in government by transparently disclosing policymaking activities and climate data in open, accessible formats. If citizens trust public institutions and feel a sense of ownership over political decisions, they will be more likely to support ambitious climate action.

  • Fostering innovation and better outcomes with less money by providing opportunities for public participation in decision-making. Co-creating policies, programs and services with a range of stakeholders facilitates cross-sector innovation and allows governments to tap into new sources of expertise.

  • Increasing effectiveness of policies by consulting civil society. Public participation in the decision-making processes can help ensure that laws are both effective and socially equitable.

  • Building key accountability mechanisms that will help governments meet Paris Agreement targets across election cycles.

Four NAP Commitments to Help Countries Achieve their NDCs

Through OGP’s National Action Plan (NAP) process, member countries make concrete two-year open government commitments that provide a foundation for successful climate action. Here are four that will strengthen OGP member countries’ ability to meet their Paris Agreement targets:

  • Make government data on the amounts and sources of greenhouse gas emissions, climate impacts as well as models and simulations for future climate scenarios accessible to the public. Opening datasets to the public ensures that all members of society have the information that they need to make choices that align with a low-carbon and climate-resilient pathway (e.g. data related to climate impacts to inform private infrastructure investment decisions or land zoning permits). In its 2016-2018 NAP, the Kenyan government committed to open up its forestry datasets to civil society and promote the development of accessible, data-driven applications.

  • Establish a publicly available and user-friendly database to track progress on NDC implementation and related policies such as greenhouse gas targets, renewable energy, forest restoration and energy efficiency. Collecting and proactively releasing this information will strengthen our ability to report on progress internationally. It will also allow domestic stakeholders to feed into progress made, ensuring that all efforts are captured and shared. Sierra Leone demonstrated leadership in its 2016-2018 NAP, pledging to establish a publicly available database to track implementation of its commitments.  

  • Develop and implement national climate policies in a transparent, participatory manner by providing early, adequate and accessible opportunities for public engagement. Enabling civil society to co-create climate policy is vital to building a sense of ownership and responsibility for climate action. Building a strong base of public support will be key to increasing ambition over time. For example, in its 2015-2016 NAP, the Government of France committed to collaborating with civil society to develop innovative solutions to meet the challenges of climate change.

  • Introduce a climate budget tagging or marker system to enable the identification and tracking of climate-related expenditure (based on both domestic and international resources). These systems enable informed investment decisions, better integration of climate priorities into national and sub-national planning, and the generation of financial information needed for reporting under the Paris Agreement. They also greatly improve accountability by showing that funds provided to reduce the vulnerability of a country’s poorest population have in fact been used to achieve its intended effect. Italy is building tools, including a public website, that enable citizens to better understand and track public spending. By publishing this information on public expenditures from all central and local government agencies on an open data platform, the government seeks to strengthen accountability for taxpayer money.

During its first year, the new Open Climate Working Group plans to encourage governments to include impactful climate commitments in their new NAPs and support nations with existing commitments in implementation. By promoting shared learning and knowledge exchange between member countries and civil society leaders, OGP creates a forum for international collaboration that can help drive climate action and the achievement of the Paris Agreement’s objectives.

 

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