International Environment:

Experts' Observations on Enhancing Compliance With a Climate Change Agreement

RCED-99-248: Published: Aug 23, 1999. Publicly Released: Sep 22, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO identified issues that could enhance compliance with the Kyoto Protocol or any climate change agreement, focusing on the: (1) clarity of the protocol's goals and procedures; (2) use of incentives that encourage compliance to supplement punitive measures to punish noncompliance; and (3) role of environmental and industry groups.

GAO noted that: (1) three features could enhance compliance with the provisions being negotiated for the Kyoto Protocol on reporting greenhouse gas emissions, monitoring emissions and verifying compliance with emissions limits, and enforcing the protocol's requirements; (2) while the protocol specifies country-by-country emissions limits, it is not clear how these limits fit into the long-term objective of stabilizing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere; (3) clear reporting requirements will help ensure that the data collected on emissions are accurate and comparable; (4) clearly defined processes for monitoring nations' progress toward their goals and for taking action against those that do not comply will help ensure that the monitoring and enforcement processes are perceived as equitable and, ultimately, make them more effective; (5) international environmental agreements have tended to use enforcement provisions infrequently or ineffectively; (6) recent experience with agreements such as the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer suggests that supplementing enforcement penalties with incentives can help ensure that nations comply with an agreement's requirements; (7) the panelists discussed three types of incentives that could be incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol's provisions: (a) the protocol's requirements must be binding, but different reporting requirements may be appropriate for different nations; (b) because the signatory nations vary widely in terms of the resources they have available to implement the protocol's requirements, some nations may need technical or financial help to design and implement reporting systems; and (c) because the ability to buy and sell emissions allowances is an incentive for nations to participate, the protocol needs to specify how the risks involved with an international emissions trading system will be allocated; (8) traditionally, official recognition (standing) for the purpose of monitoring compliance with international agreements has been provided only to the authorized delegates of the nations that are parties to the agreement; (9) environmental and industry groups traditionally lack standing under these agreements; and (10) such entities may have data on certain greenhouse gas emissions that could be used to help verify the data that nations report, and they may have resources that could assist in the monitoring of compliance.

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