Policy Update #28

National Reporting under the International Climate Regime: Towards Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals

Critical for the post-2015 development agenda, the year 2015 saw the adoption of four key agreements. Resolution A/RES/70/1, titled 'Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,' which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in September, includes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and accompanying targets. The Addis Ababa Action Agenda was adopted by the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, and some of its elements were incorporated into the 2030 Agenda as well. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted in March by the Third UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction. Closing out the year, the Paris Agreement was adopted by the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It has been widely observed that convergence among these instruments is essential for coherent international policies on sustainable development, climate change and disaster risk reduction (DRR). As outlined in the advance unedited copy of the 'Report of the Secretary-General on critical milestones towards coherent, efficient and inclusive follow-up and review at the global level' (UN, 2016), with the advent of the implementation phase of these agreements, it is of growing importance that interlinkages among them be identified at various levels to ensure a holistic approach and build synergies.

According to that report (para. 51), which provides proposals on a global follow-up and review system for SDG implementation, it was by including an SDG on climate change that the SDGs “bridged the gap that has long existed between the development agenda and action on climate change.” The SDG on climate change recognizes, however, that the UNFCCC remains the platform for climate change negotiations and the Secretary-General's report suggests that the UNFCCC COP be invited to make a contribution to the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) review of SDG 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts) and other related SDGs and targets. In turn, it also notes (para. 47) that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) could provide opportunities to feature the UNFCCC's work prominently at the HLPF. The HLPF could consider data gathered through the UNFCCC national reporting process as well as information included in a negotiated outcome (para. 52), such as the Paris Agreement.

It is, therefore, essential to examine the UNFCCC's national reporting practices in light of their relevance for the HLPF's work on follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda. This policy update considers countries' national reporting obligations on implementation under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol, as well as under the Paris Agreement, in order to identify linkages with SDG 13 and its accompanying targets, with a view to help streamline their implementation, taking into account experiences and lessons learned.

National reporting on implementation under the UNFCCC has been instrumental in tracking progress towards the Convention's objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system. Under the recently adopted Paris Agreement, progress towards the long-term global goal will be assessed through the global stocktake that will take place in 2023 and every five years thereafter. The Paris Agreement defines the long-term global goal as holding the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C (Paris Agreement, Art. 2). Along with the fact that the global temperature goal is now anchored in a legally-binding international treaty, this represents a significant shift from previously agreed language of keeping the global average temperature rise “below” 2°C above preindustrial levels (Cancun Agreements, para. 4). Yet, multiple reports issued ahead of COP 21 on the aggregate impact of intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) communicated to the UNFCCC Secretariat indicate that, if climate ambition is not raised progressively, the goal of keeping the global temperature rise “below,” and certainly “well below,” 2°C above preindustrial levels may become unattainable. As solid measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) provisions are instrumental to successful collective action towards the long-term global goal, countries also agreed to strengthen the Paris Agreement with an enhanced transparency framework.

Current Reporting Framework under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol

Under the current MRV system, developed and developing countries submit national reports in separate but parallel processes, in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities (CBDR-RC) enshrined in the UNFCCC. Developed countries, or Annex I Parties, are under an obligation to provide more frequent and more detailed national reports, as well as annual reports on their national GHG emissions that must be submitted separately. They are required to submit: periodic national communications (NCs) according to dates set by the COP; annual GHG inventories; and biennial reports (BRs) outlining progress in achieving GHG emissions reductions and the provision of financial, technology and capacity-building support to developing countries, or non-Annex I Parties. In their NCs, developed countries provide information on: GHGs emissions and removals; national circumstances; policies and measures; vulnerability assessment; financial resources and transfer of technology; education, training and public awareness; and any other details of the activities a Party has undertaken to implement the Convention.

BRs are subject to the international assessment and review (IAR) process, which aims to promote comparability of efforts among developed countries with regard to their quantified economy-wide emissions reduction or limitation targets under the UNFCCC or the Kyoto Protocol, and comprises a technical review of BRs and a multilateral assessment of developed countries' implementation progress towards their targets. Developed countries that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol are also required to provide in their NCs and GHG annual inventories supplementary information to demonstrate compliance with their commitments under the Protocol.

Developing countries' reporting obligations are less frequent and more flexible. They are required to submit their first NC within three years of acceding to the UNFCCC and every four years thereafter. In their NCs they should provide, to the extent their capacities permit: information on GHG inventories; measures to mitigate, and facilitate adequate adaptation to, climate change; and any other information they consider relevant to the achievement of the UNFCCC's objective. Developing countries' NCs are complemented by biennial update reports (BURs), which provide an update on the data included in the NCs, in particular information on constraints and gaps, including support needed and received. Least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing States (SIDS) enjoy an additional degree of flexibility in this regard and may submit BURs at their discretion.

BURs are subject to international consultation and analysis (ICA). The ICA process aims to enhance the transparency of mitigation actions and includes two steps: a technical analysis of BURs by a team of technical experts and a facilitative sharing of views.

Additionally, following the national adaptation programmes of action (NAPA) process for LDCs to identify and communicate priority activities to respond to their immediate adaptation needs, LDCs submit national adaptation plans (NAPs) to identify medium- and long-term adaptation needs and implement strategies and programmes to address them. They do so under a process established under the Cancun Adaptation Framework (CAF). Other developing countries have also been invited by the COP to employ the modalities formulated to support NAPs in LDCs in elaborating their own adaptation planning efforts (Cancun Agreements, paras 15-16).

Transparency Framework under the Paris Agreement

The current MRV framework will be superseded by the enhanced transparency framework established by the Paris Agreement, immediately after the submission of the final BRs and BURs (UNFCCC Decision 1/CP.21, para. 99). It will also form part of the experience for the COP serving as the meeting of Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) to draw upon when it adopts, at its first session, common modalities, procedures and guidelines for the transparency of action and support. It is important to note here that the IAR and ICA review processes could inform those modalities as international (peer-) review is essential in a bottom-up system where countries have discretion over national targets and their implementation.

The enhanced transparency framework will aim to provide a clear understanding of climate action, including progress towards Parties' nationally determined contributions (NDCs), adaptation actions as well as support provided and received. All parties shall biennially provide GHG inventories alongside information necessary to track progress towards their NDCs. Under the Paris Agreement, developed countries are required biennially to provide information on financial, technology transfer and capacity-building support, including in relation to education, training and public awareness. In addition, developing countries should, every two years, provide information on support needed and received, whereas the LDCs and SIDS may submit this information at their discretion.

The Paris Agreement envisages that information related to transparency of action and support shall be subject to a technical expert review process, with all Parties also participating in a facilitative multilateral consideration of progress. The implementation of the Paris Agreement will be assessed through the global stocktake, which will evaluate collective progress towards the long-term global goal by considering mitigation, adaptation, as well as the means of implementation (MOI) and support. The outcome of the global stocktake shall inform Parties' subsequent NDCs and enhance international cooperation on climate action.

Whereas the details of the enhanced transparency framework are yet to be elaborated by the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA), many anticipate increased rigor, robustness and transparency. The enhanced transparency framework could address some of the gaps of the current MRV system, e.g. increase the transparency of developed countries' reporting on the assumptions, conditions and methods related to the attainment of their emissions targets, as well as on the provision of support. The timing of developing countries' reports could also be improved, alongside completeness of the information provided (Ellis & Moarif, 2015). A Capacity-building Initiative for Transparency established by COP 21 to support developing countries in meeting enhanced transparency requirements could be instrumental in this regard.

From Climate Reporting to SDG Implementation

In sum, under the international climate regime, countries provide and will continue to provide a wealth of national data to track implementation progress. Data collection may further improve following the entry into force of the Paris Agreement, by which time common modalities, procedures and guidelines for the transparency of action and support are expected to have been elaborated.

According to the Secretary-General's Report on follow-up and review (para. 7), the lynchpin of the follow-up and review process in implementing the SDGs will be the national level. National reports under the international climate regime can, therefore, be a valuable source of information for the implementation of SDG 13 and accompanying targets. Additionally, the IAR and ICA experiences could be drawn upon for the purposes of developing a follow-up and review process for SDG implementation.

Information contained in NAPs and adaptation communications to be submitted under the Paris Agreement could be used to track progress towards strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters (target 13.1) (see also Wiseman 2016, forthcoming). Information included in NCs and post-2020 communications on the transparency of action and support could be useful in determining the degree of the integration of climate change measures into national policies, strategies and planning (target 13.2). Implementation efforts pertaining to target 13.3 on improving education, awareness raising, and human and institutional capacity could be linked to developed countries' NCs as well as their post-2020 reporting. Financial and capacity-building data submitted by developed countries in their NCs and BRs could be used to assess progress towards targets 13.a on mobilizing US$100 billion annually by 2020 and fully operationalizing the Green Climate Fund (GCF) through its capitalization as soon as possible, and 13.b on promoting mechanisms for raising capacity for effective climate change-related planning and management in LDCs and SIDS. Under the Paris Agreement's enhanced transparency framework, improved reporting on capacity building also will be valuable, and enhanced financial reporting requirements will be instrumental in tracking continued compliance with the US$100 billion annual target. In many ways, the challenge of tracking implementation of the climate change SDG and accompanying targets will also involve identifying how best to use the current, and to shape new, climate change reporting processes.


The author would like to thank Alice Bisiaux, Stefan Jungcurt, Wangu Mwangi, Nathalie Risse, Lynn Wagner and Virginia Wiseman for their valuable input and comments to this update.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) is pleased to bring you a series of policy updates on national reporting and implementation processes within the multilateral environmental agreement (MEA) processes that we have been tracking for over two decades. Decisions taken in 2015 by intergovernmental policy makers have sought to change the approach to implementing sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change are universal agendas, with implied implementation obligations for all countries. Our Earth Negotiations Bulletin writers and thematic experts for our Policy & Practice knowledgebases have monitored discussions on the successes and shortcomings of national planning and reporting processes within the MEAs and other processes we follow. Our hope is that this series will help all concerned with implementing the new sustainable development directions of 2015 to build on lessons of the past.


Ellis, J., Moarif, S. 2015. Identifying and Addressing Gaps in the UNFCCC Reporting Framework. OECD Climate Change Expert Group Paper No. 2015(7), November 2015.

IEA. 2015. Energy and Climate Change: World Energy Outlook Special Briefing for COP 21.

Mead, L. 2015. INDCs: Foundation for a Successful Outcome in Paris? IISD Climate Change Policy & Practice, Policy Update #24, 16 November 2015.

UN. 2016. Report of the Secretary-General on critical milestones towards coherent, efficient and inclusive follow-up and review at the global level. Advance unedited copy, A/70/xxx, 19 January 2015.

UNFCCC. 2015. Adoption of the Paris Agreement. Decision 1/CP.21.

UNFCCC. 2015. Synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions. FCCC/CP/2015/7.

UNFCCC. 2010. Cancun Agreements: Outcome of the work of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action under the Convention. Decision 1/CP.16.

UNFCCC. 2002. Guidelines for the preparation of national communications from Parties not included in Annex I to the Convention. Decision 17/CP.8.

UNFCCC. 1999. UNFCCC Reporting Guidelines for Annex I Parties. FCCC/CP/1999/7.

Wiseman, V. 2016. Supporting Implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 13.1 on Climate Change Adaptation. IISD Climate Change Policy & Practice, Policy Update.