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Open Governance, the secret weapon to implement the Paris Agreement?

by Pauline Leduc, member of the Asia Geopolitics programme of Institut Open Diplomacy, graduate from Sciences Po Paris and the Fudan University

· Environnement,Gouvernance mondiale

On December 5 and 6, 2016, less than a month after COP 22 hold in Marrakech, about a hundred of entrepreneurs, experts on climate change and environmental laws as well as experts on data, came from all the continents to meet in Paris. This “Global Gathering”, as it was called, took place a couple of days before the Official Opening of the 2016 Summit of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a platform now gathering 54 countries to reflect and cooperate on open governance and better democratic practices, which was host in Paris. 

Using Open Governance tools for climate action

It was the World Resources Institute (WRI), an American-based non-profit organization advocating for environmental protection and climate action whose Executive Vice President co-chairs the 2016 OGP Summit alongside the French government, that organized this Global Gathering. “The Global Gathering was a pre-event aimed at bringing together ‘the climate community’ [e.g. experts and professionals working on environment issues] and ‘Open Government (OG) community’ [e.g. professionals working on data and access to information] together” in order to strengthen their networks and actions, explained Carole Excell, the Project Director of WRI’s The Access Initiative, during a session of the OGP Summit on climate action. Indeed, for WRI, the reunion of those two ‘communities’ is supposed to result in the empowerment of the civil society and to help citizens use simple technologies to make their voice heard, including in the fight against climate change. Hence, The Access Initiative (TAI) is a network setting up to support the organizations and initiatives helping citizens to have a say in environmental decisions. 

Carole Excell introducing the aims and the results of the Global Gathering. 

Source: Screen capture of the Livestream of the OGP Summit. 

Thus, during the two days of the Global Gathering, the participants exchanged ideas and skills, as well as professional contacts. Several dozens of mini-workshops were designed, during which about ten persons discussed on very specific topics, from the functioning of the TAI network, to tools which can be used to monitor public action, tools which can be used to fundraise for environmental litigation, or climate finance accountability. 

The French government too, was promoting similar ideas, the Commissioner-General for Sustainable Development under the French Ministry of Environment, Laurence Monnoyer-Smith, also a speaker at the panel on “Accelerating climate action through OG”, highlighted. The French Commissioner-General praised the French Minister of Environment Ségolène Royal for bringing together the two communities mentioned by Carole Excell and encouraging citizens to contribute to the environmental policies at the national but also at the local government level. Laurence Monnoyer-Smith also evoked the ‘100 projects’ Operation launch by the French Ministry of Environment “which aims to promote citizen-led initiatives from all over the world in the fight against climate change[1] and which was presented at the COP 22 - a hundred of startups developing solutions to climate change, transportation, energy efficiency, etc. issues had been selected according to L. Monnoyer-Smith.

Open Governance in the Paris Agreement: the real obligation for the governments to be responsive

Adoption of the Paris Agreement during the COP 21 in November 2015. Credit: COP Paris, via Flickr.

In addition to promoting democratic values, the power of the principle of an open and thus transparent government lies in the fact that such a government has to act on its promises. 

Whereas many commentators denounced the Paris Agreement for “being neither binding nor ambitious” (see for instance, Amy Dahan, whose thoughts where summarized on Open Diplomacy in a previous article[2]), it appears that the Parties must abide by the Articles 13 and 12, which deal respectively with the obligation of transparency, and the people’s rights to information and participation. Thus, in the Deputy Executive Secretary to the Climate Change Secretariat[3] Richard Kinley’s words: “The Paris Agreement embodies the principle of open government”.

The article 12 of the Paris Agreement indicates that the Parties should “enhance […] public awareness, public participation and public access to information”. In order to implement this provision, the WRI argues that the Parties and the public could rely on pre-existing national laws, such as those dealing with the freedom of information (when existing), or transparent budgeting. The governments should also strive to release and make comprehensible the data that governments already possess. 

The principles of OGP will be especially important” in the implementation stage, following the entry into force of the Paris agreement on November 4, 2016[4], Richard Kinley advocated at the OGP panel on climate action on November 9, 2016. For him as for Elizabeth Moses from WRI, “the public can serve an invaluable watchdog role, holding governments accountable for following through on their targets[5].

A future Open Governance Working Group on climate action? 

In addition to the 6 existing Working Groups (on fiscal openness, legislative openness, access to information, open data, anti-corruption, and openness in natural resources), the WRI proposed to establish an Open Climate Working Group, which should be open to national and subnational governments, civil society organizations, international organizations as well as private firms. By providing guidance and encouraging peer exchange, this group should help OGP members to implement climate actions and complement their commitments to the UNFCCC - United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

WRI’s proposal was presented during a session attended by about 70 persons on Friday 9, 2016. A declaration with collective commitments on climate and sustainable development was open for signature during the OGP Summit. A few governments committed to join, and about a dozen of civil society organizations also expressed their interest in joining. 

Nonetheless, WRI will need the approval of the OGP Steering Committee to officially set up this Working Group, as it is the Steering Group under the OGP which decides whether new thematic groups are necessary.

The Review process under the Paris Agreement: only hope to limit global warming

Nonetheless, the sole implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that the Parties to the Paris Agreement have to prepare, communicate and achieve will not allow to meet the objective on maintaining the increase of global emissions below 2 celsius degrees. 

It is commonly accepted that the Parties were not “ambitious enough” when drafting their NDCs: the estimated result of all the successful implementation of “the existing NDCs, in aggregate, is still less than what the world needs”, Richard Kinley admitted. “That is why [the NDCs] will be reviewed and adapted”, he added. Hence, the Review Mechanism that is also included in the Paris Agreement, under articles 13, 14 and 15. 

The Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station in, Attenborough Nature Reserve, UK. 

Credit: David Lally, via Photograph.org.uk.

Thus, as pointed out by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), it is not the Open Government principles per se, but rather an “effective review [that] is essential for tracking how NDCs align collectively with the Paris Agreement’s objective to keep warming “well below 2°C” and to try to stay under 1.5°C, as well as its principles, including equity[6]. Three types of reviews are listed in the Paris Agreement.

First, as provided by the Article 13, the Parties should communicate biennial reports, dealing with emissions, climate change effects, but also capacity-building, financials, and technology transfers. The communicated information will then undergo a “non-intrusive” and “non-punitive” technical review. 

Secondly, the (brief) Article 14 states that the Parties should review the effects of the implementation of their NDCs as a whole and conduct a “global stocktake” every five years starting from 2023. Yet, the SEI highlights that the type and source of information feeding this global stocktake is unclear, and so is the status of the outcomes of the stocktake and the facilitative dialogue that is to be organized in 2018. 

Thirdly, the article 15 establishes an “implementation and compliance mechanism”. Nonetheless, the scope of this mechanism and the powers of the committee which will be in charge of it are particularly blurry. One could argue in favor of a limited scope, only requiring that the Parties comply with the obligation to deliver timely assessment, and not with the overall goal of limiting the increase of the global temperature. Likewise, there is no precision regarding the identity of the moral and/or natural person who can trigger the initiation of a compliance review. Will the committee be able to act on its own initiative, or will it have to be entitled, either by the Party in question, another Party or a non-state actor? 

Including climate action on every government's agenda

Consequently, in its discussion brief from July 2016, the Stockholm Environment Institute concludes that the Parties to the Paris Agreement “have an imperative to create the processes that will give meaning and substance to the Agreement”. 

In the end, the states remain sovereign, and the recommendations elaborated by expert-based international committees and civil society organizations will make a difference as long as climate and environmental issues are regarded as a priority by governments. 

The OGP provides tools for a checks-and-balances mechanism which could add up to those institutionalized in the traditional representative democracy framework. It encourages the people to be more politically involved, by making more rational decisions based on open information, and by assessing in almost real-time that the governments act on their promises. Maybe, the OGP will allow the civil societies to go beyond the limits of the traditional representative democracy and the risk of short-term bias of the representatives, thus including climate action on their agenda. 

[1] French Government Pavilion Programme at COP 22, p. 7. Online access: http://www.developpement-durable.gouv.fr/IMG/pdf/EN_cop_22__programme_detaille.pdf, last visit on December 9, 2016.

[2] FRIANG Thomas, « Vers l’Accord de Paris et au-delà » (Towards the Paris Agreement and Beyond, in French), Institut Open Diplomacy, March 17, 2016. Online access: http://www.open-diplomacy.eu/blog/vers-l-accord-de-paris-et-au-dela Last visit on December 9, 2016

[3] The Climate Change Secretariat was established under the Article 8 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiated at the Earth Summit in Rio in June 1992, which entried into force two years later. The Secretariat is servicing the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (signed in 1997, entried into force in 2005) which extends the UNFCCC. The Climate Change Secretariat is responsible for making arrangements for sessions of the Protocol and its bodies, preparing documents for the Conference of the Parties (COP), helping with the negotiations of the agreements and their implementation.

[4] The Paris Agreement entrered into force on November 4, 2016, as the double threshold necessary was met on October 5, 2016. The agreement had to be signed by 55 Parties representing at least 55 percent of the global emissions, and as of October 5, 2016, 74 Parties (countries and the EU) representing almost 59 percent of emissions had joined.

[5] MOSES Elizabeth, "Using Open Government for Climate Action”, WRI, November 28, 2016. Online access: http://www.wri.org/blog/2016/11/using-open-government-climate-action Last visit on December 9, 2016

[6] Stockholm Environment Institute, "Maximizing the potential of the Paris Agreement: Effective review in a hybrid regime", July 1, 2016, p.2. Online access: https://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/Climate/SEI-DB-2016-Maximizing-potential-Paris-Agreement.pdf Last visit on December 10, 2016

Top picture caption: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry discusses the final draft of the environmental agreement on December 12, 2015, with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Copyright: U.S. Department of State, via Wikicommons.

Les opinions et interprétations exprimées dans les publications engagent la seule responsabilité de leurs auteurs, dans le respect de l'article 3 des statuts de l'Institut Open Diplomacy et de sa charte des valeurs.

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