Legal assistance paper

All reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of this information at the time the advice was produced (please refer to the date produced below). However, the materials have been prepared for informational purposes only and may have been superseded by more recent developments. They do not constitute formal legal advice or create a lawyer-client relationship. You should seek legal advice to take account of your own interests. To the extent permitted any liability is excluded. Those consulting the database may wish to contact LRI for clarifications and an updated analysis.

Date produced: 08/06/2010

1. What is “MRV”?

2. How does MRV differ from compliance and enforcement?

3. What is ICA? How does ICA relate to MRV?

4. How does MRV function under the Kyoto Protocol, and what elements are involved? 

5. To what issues in the UNFCCC negotiations does MRV relate? Are there already provisions for MRV in these areas?

6. Why might MRV be important for developing country Parties? Specifically, why is MRV important for adaptation and mitigation? 

1. Measurement, reporting and verification (MRV) is a reporting system with the objective of tracking the progress of States towards meeting a treaty objective. The system is intended to improve transparency in reporting on progress by requiring states to report against a standard measurement and submit to independent verification of their reporting. The focus is on the factual accuracy of information submitted by states on their national policies.

The concept of MRV and the suggestion that certain actions should be measurable, reportable and verifiable was established at COP 13 under the Bali Action Plan (“BAP”) in 2007. The three separate ‘strands’ of MRV are not explicitly defined in international environmental law, but it is widely understood that the words can be given their ordinary meaning:

  • Measurement – this enables aspects to be described in precise, objective terms against an established standard or ‘unit of measurement’.
  • Reporting – this places an obligation on the Parties to record and document their actions as required.  This is a key feature in any international agreement for assessing a party’s progress and as a foundation for further action. Of importance is the precision and reliability of the reported information (which is closely linked to the issue of measurement) and the degree to which information is presented in a transparent and standardized way that allows comparisons between reports and verification by others.
  • Verification – this is the independent process of checking the accuracy and reliability of any reported information. As such, verification in its purest form will not involve judging or drawing conclusions from a set of facts; it is simply a “checking” process. Verification is used in many international agreements as a means of enabling parties to assess one another’s performance.

2. MRV is a factual exercise involving the reporting of a set of circumstances and the subsequent verification of the facts in the report. The aim of MRV is to create an accountable reporting system to ensure that the report regarding a relevant project is factually correct. It does not aim to make any legal determinations on the basis of the information so gathered.  The process of verification is aimed at analysing the accuracy of the facts in the relevant report.

Compliance is a legal exercise to determine whether or not a Party has adhered to its obligations in an agreement. It focuses on Parties meeting their obligations contained in the Convention and the Kyoto Protocol (the “Protocol”). The Kyoto Protocol has an institutionalised mechanism to address issues regarding compliance, which is called the Compliance Committee.

Once it has been established that a Party is not in compliance with its obligations, enforcement ensures that the Party is brought back into compliance. Enforcement can both facilitate compliance, and punish for non-compliance.  For further background on compliance and enforcement, please see Annex 1 below.

The main difference between the three concepts (compliance, enforcement and MRV) therefore relates to their aims:

  • MRV aims at establishing facts,
  • Compliance aims at establishing whether or not legal obligations have been met, and
  • Enforcement aims at ensuring compliance.

Although the two concepts of MRV and compliance are distinct and have different objectives, they are nevertheless closely related. MRV can play a preliminary role in compliance by providing the factual predicate for later legal determinations. Factual verification is important, as inaccurate/incomplete verification may result in inaccurate compliance decisions given that the facts on which the judgment is made are not accurate in the first place.

3. “ICA” stands for “international consultation and analysis”. During the Copenhagen discussions, the BASIC group expressed concern regarding emissions reports being independently verified and contended that this was a violation of their national sovereignty. The following drafting, as agreed by the BASIC group and the US, resulted in paragraph 5 of the Copenhagen Accord and provides for two levels of MRV for the NAMAs of developing countries:

  • for unsupported NAMAs, MRV is domestic, but reported every 2 years, and subject to “international consultations and analysis”. “ICA” is not defined in the Accord, but guidelines are to be developed at the COP which “ensure that national sovereignty is respected”.
  • for supported NAMAs (supported by finance and technology under UNFCCC arrangements), MRV is intended to be international, and guidelines for this type of MRV are also intended to be developed at the COP. Because of the international support, the Accord envisages more rigorous scrutiny undertaken at international level, without the same reference to national sovereignty.

MRV for supported NAMAs by developing countries is still not intended to be as rigorous as the MRV for mitigation actions by developed countries. This follows from the fact that the need for “rigorous, robust and transparent” monitoring referred to in paragraph 4 of the Accord (in relation to Annex I Parties) is not replicated in paragraph 5.

There is no definition of “ICA” in the Copenhagen Accord. The COP must develop guidelines on the meaning of “ICA”.

The Cancun Agreements detail that ICA of biannual reports on developing countries will take place within the context of the SBI.

4. Article 12 of the UNFCCC requires that all Parties to the Convention (Annex I and Non-Annex I countries) submit national reports. Additionally, Parties to the Protocol are subject to expanded and strengthened reporting requirements. The reports are used to assess compliance with the obligation to reduce GHG emissions and legally binding emission targets contained in the Protocol. For Annex I Parties, CMP Decisions establish that compliance with reporting requirements is a condition for participating in the flexible mechanisms.

Annex 1 Parties

The Protocol requires that the Annex I Parties submit detailed GHG inventories, prepared using the most recent methodologies established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and reported according to agreed upon guidelines.

Article 5 of the Protocol specifies that Annex I Parties must have national systems in place by no later than 2007 for the estimation of GHG emissions and removals. This requirement to establish a national system aims to ensure that all Annex I Parties develop sufficient capacity to monitor accurately and report on their emissions.

Article 7 of the Protocol specifies that its requirements are intended to enable the determination of compliance with the emissions targets. Annex I Parties must submit an annual inventory, including necessary supplementary information, for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the Convention. Annex I Parties are also required to include in their national communications necessary information to “demonstrate” compliance with their commitments under the Protocol.

Article 8 of the Protocol governs the review of the information submitted through these procedures by Annex I Parties. So-called expert review teams will prepare a report containing a “thorough and comprehensive technical assessment of all aspects of the implementation by a Party of [the] Protocol”. The teams report to the Meeting of the Parties on this assessment, including “any potential problems” in the fulfilment of commitments.

Non-Annex I Parties

The Protocol puts in place more stringent rules on developed countries and softer rules onto developing countries in relation to their reporting in the MRV system. Non-Annex I Parties are subject to less stringent rules in relation to their GHG inventories and are submitted less frequently. They are also not subject to international review under the Convention or the Protocol. Non-Annex I Parties must include their inventory in their national communications rather than separately, and the frequency at which they are submitted is determined by the COP. Non-Annex I Party inventories are not required to be developed under the IPCC guidelines (although they are encouraged to do so).

5. As mentioned, Article 5, 7 and 8 of the Protocol build upon Article 12 of the UNFCCC and address MRV. These provisions span different areas of the climate change negotiations including mitigation, technology and financing, adaptation and the Protocol’s flexible mechanisms.


The BAP specifically addressed MRV in the context of mitigation in paragraph 1(b)(i) and (ii):

“(b) Enhanced national/international action on mitigation of climate change, including, inter alia, consideration of:

(i) Measurable, reportable and verifiable nationally appropriate mitigation commitments or actions including quantified emission limitation and reduction objectives, by all developed-country Parties, while ensuring the comparability of efforts among them, taking into account differences in their national circumstances; and

(ii) Nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development, supported and enabled by technology, financing and capacity-building in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.”

In doing so, it introduced three categories for action: (i) developed country mitigation commitments or actions; (ii) developing country mitigation actions; and (iii) the provision of support for developing country mitigation actions.

Flexibility Mechanisms:

Developed countries have a number of commitments under the Protocol relating to the provision of support to developing countries.  In particular, the Protocol established “flexible mechanisms” to review and certify GHG mitigation projects: joint implementation (JI) and the clean development mechanism (“CDM”). Annex I Parties are required to report information on transactions of emissions units under the Protocol mechanisms. These are tracked on both a domestic and an international level, through an electronic national registry established by each Party and through the Independent Transaction Log (“ITL”) which is administered by the Secretariat. The national registries and the ITL only became fully operational in 2008.

All national registries must ensure that they meet the Data Exchange Standards, which are detailed technical requirements on issues such as transaction rules, communications and data security. Once a registry is connected to the ITL, all transactions covered by the Protocol are checked by the ITL before they  are allowed to be actioned.

MRV was a key topic of the negotiations in Bonn (June 2010) which identified many areas that needed clarification.  For example, the “indicative questions” for  the AWG-LCA meeting on 7 June 2010 were:

  • What subjects or topics should be covered by developed country Parties in their ‘reporting’ within the overall MRV framework?
  • How frequently should specific topics be reported?
  • What should be the form or format of reporting?

Whilst current procedures and requirements seem to work well in some areas, for example Annex I Parties’ emissions inventories, they are deficient in others, such as the Parties’ mitigation actions. This has led to proposals for a more detailed framework post-2012.

6. Mitigation

The concept of developing countries being subject to MRV requirements was initiated in the BAP which stated that when developing countries take “nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) in the context of sustainable development”, this shall be done in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.

For mitigation actions in developing countries, the Copenhagen Accord (in paragraph 5) provides for oversight through:

  • the inclusion of information on mitigation actions (and their implementation) in national communications consistent with Article 12(1)(b) UNFCCC every two years; and
  • international measurement, reporting and verification” of actions receiving international support;

Therefore, NAMAs will be subject to two distinct accounting requirements:

  • guidelines concerning national communications (required every two years) on the implementation of NAMAs which are unsupported and which ensure that national sovereignty is respected; and
  • guidelines concerning MRV of mitigation actions which have international support (in the form of technology, finance or capacity-building),

both of which need to be created by the COP.

The reason for the two levels of MRV is that developing country mitigation actions not receiving international support will be subject to domestic rules on MRV, which the COP (or other international grouping) will not have authority over. Those mitigation actions receiving international support will be subject to international MRV, as defined by the COP (or other international grouping). The MRV provisions balance the wishes of developed countries for international scrutiny, and the concerns of developing countries about retaining national sovereignty (largely in favour of the latter). To this end, developing countries will set their own monitoring rules and monitor their own efforts, but must report the results of such monitoring to the UN biennially in a manner consistent with the guidelines on national communications.

There is concern in some quarters that the lack of certainty as to the level of MRV for developing country mitigation actions could mean that some States will be wary of associating with the Accord. Clarity on this issue is urgently required so that developing countries may feel comfortable implementing their mitigation actions.

Given that one of the conditions attached to the goal to mobilise $100 billion for developing countries by 2020 is “transparency on implementation” of mitigation actions, it is important for the success of the Accord that guidelines in respect of national communications and international MRV for developing countries are agreed upon as soon as possible.


Adaptation is only mentioned briefly in the Accord (at paragraph 3) where it recognises that adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change is a challenge faced by all countries. However, the Accord language does not progress significantly from the BAP, and in many respects the strength of the Accord has regressed relative to the BAP because of the omission of certain adaptation provisions (the nature of the Accord as a noted document, which is not adopted or endorsed within the UNFCCC process, should be bourn in mind).

The accord does not include any discussion of an adaptation framework and no language in respect of loss and damage, which appears in the BAP and the draft COP decision on Adaptation. On the other hand, language relating to the potential impacts of response measures (language which is opposed by many developing countries and NGOs) is included. It is possible that in the future some states might seek to rely upon the fact that the Adaptation paragraph speaks of response measures but ignores loss and damage as a precedent to stop progress on the issue of loss and damage, and remove references to it from the draft COP decision.

Paragraph three’s recognition of adaptation needs, with emphasis on LDCs, SIDS and Africa, support from developed countries and the provision of “adequate, predictable and sustainable” support is helpful, in that it may be used to help prioritise steps for the future and provide reassurance to the non Annex 1 countries as to the level of support they might expect. However, the Accord does not contain any requirement for MRV in relation to adaptation measures (aside from the finance elements described above) or the provision of technology and capacity building associated with it.