Who can and should hold states to account for how they live up to their commitments last Saturday made in Paris and beyond? The provisions on the table for formal mechanisms for states to hold each other to account within the agreement are weak at best, says Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen at Wageningen University. States’ reluctance to voluntarily subject themselves to strong compliance mechanisms under particularly international environmental law is well-known, she says. “Accountability must be seen in a much broader context.”
As captured in a policy brief on how to strengthen accountability under the Paris agreement on climate change and circulated widely before the Paris climate conference, there are much better prospects for accountability at the domestic level where national institutions such as parliaments, audit agencies and courts on the one hand, and civil society and the public on the other, already have accepted roles in scrutinizing the government’s behaviour.
Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen of the Public Administration and Policy Group at Wageningen University argues that much more attention has to be given to identifying best practices of how the nationally identified climate actions linked to the Paris agreement are firstly developed and how then they are anchored in domestic law and policy. Such best practices involve both how to ensure that they capture the highest possible ambition – but also that they are most effectively implemented. This is particularly important as the domestic contributions will not be formally part of the legally binding Paris Agreement.
In a reaction on the Paris agreement the Dutch State Secretary Sharon Dijksma said (Nu.nl) that it is an important point to monitor countries every five years on their responsibility to continue working on improving the environment and to combat global warming. Sylvia Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen agrees with State Secretary that a significant step has been made as countries are requested to revise their commitments every five years (and not allowed to backslide on them) and also that there is a global stocktaking of progress towards the global goal every five years under the new agreement. But it is already these review processes will only be to encourage implementation.
Furthermore, the compliance mechanism for ensuring that individual countries make progress on their commitments is yet to be negotiated. Karlsson-Vinkhuyzen organized on 9 December a side-event at COP21 in Paris on the theme of ‘Accountability After Paris’ bringing scholars, civil society and government experts together to review the different pathways through which such accountability can be achieved. The side-event took place in the Netherlands Climate Pavilion.
One day later the Wageningen researcher spoke at a side-event on possible ethical principles for accountability for climate change agreements at the Climate Generations Area next door to the COP21. A full hall and insightful questions from the audience led to a vivid discussion on how to re-imagine accountability and on whether accountability and sovereignty of states are compatible concepts.