Studies confirm that in the past compliance of nearly all governments with their binding international environmental obligations has been quite high. However, this often reflects that the commitments were fairly trivial, in many cases simply codifying rather than changing behaviour (Brown Weiss, 1999; Victor and Skolnikoff, 1999). But the effectiveness of these commitments in reducing environmental problems was also low. Incentives to cheat were few and the need for strict monitoring and enforcement was low. As efforts to tackle environmental problems intensified, as in the case of climate change, countries commitments became more demanding and stringent, the costs and complexity of implementation increased, and thus the incentives to cheat have grown. For this reason, stricter monitoring and enforcement are increasingly essential to ensure that these commitments are implemented fully (Sand, 1996; Victor and Skolnikoff, 1999). The historical record of high compliance without much monitoring and enforcement is a poor indicator of what will be needed for more effective international environmental protection in the future.
Although systematic reviews of implementation are commonplace in many national regulatory programmes (Lykke, 1993), the systematic monitoring, assessment, and handling of implementation failures by international institutions is relatively rare (General Accounting Office, 1992). Nonetheless, efforts to provide such review are growing, and today formal mechanisms for implementation review exist in nearly every recent international environmental agreement. Such mechanisms are incorporated into the UNFCCC structure as well (Victor and Salt, 1995). In addition, many informal mechanisms to review implementation and handle cases of non-compliance often operate in tandem with the formal mechanisms. Together, these formal and informal mechanisms are termed by some researchers as systems for implementation review.
An implementation review process is especially vital when decisions are undertaken regarding complex and uncertain problems on the international environmental agenda. Such problems as global warming are still poorly understood, and involve a large number of stakeholders. Since regulation of the many diffused actors is often complex, governments cannot be sure in advance whether their efforts to put international commitments into practice will be successful. Moreover, some governments may intentionally violate their international obligations. Thus, there is a need to review implementation and handle problems that arise. Implementation review can also make it easier to identify problems with existing agreements, which can aid the process of renegotiation and adjustment. However, until recently implementation review has neither been the topic of much research nor high on the policy agenda.
International agreements that include procedures for gathering and reviewing information on implementation and handling implementation problems, as for the UNFCCC, are more likely to be effective than those in which little effort is given to developing the functions of implementation review (Zürn, 1996; Victor et al., 1998). Agreements contain prescriptions for the governments to report regularly the data on their emissions and implementation measures. This has made parties more accountable for the implementation of their commitments, helped to direct assistance that facilitates compliance, and provided information and assessments that make it easier to adjust agreements over time.
Within the decision-making process regarding UNFCCC implementation, today more attention is given to assessing national emissions, policy, and measures. The process of compiling GHG emission inventories is well underway. Parties to the UNFCCC are obliged to compile and submit national communications on how they are implementing the convention (Green, 1995). These reports include inventories of GHG emissions, reports on policies and measures that the parties have adopted to try to stabilize or reduce emissions, and (eventually) an account of the extent to which emission abatement has been successful. Since 1991, IPCC and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have built effective guidelines for inventory reporting. All parties to the convention must use this system of reporting to the UNFCCC regarding emissions by sources and removals by sinks. Within this framework the governments are actively contributing to the international reporting process in submitting their national reports. Experts regard data reported by them as the backbone of the IPCC international system, while the EU is also engaging its own system Coordination-Information-Air (CORINAIR). Without good data, systems of implementation review work poorly or not at all (Lanchbery, 1998). This system was intended to be applicable to all countries and for the main emissions sector (that for energy-related CO2 emissions), and it makes use of energy flow statistics of the type that most developed countries collect routinely. Special methodologies and guidelines have been elaborated to convert the national inventory systems reasonably well, certainly for energy-related emissions, into the IPCC format. In this and in other respects it is what is known largely as a top down system.
Continues on next page
Other reports in this collection