The Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) is successfully supporting developing countries build an evidence base for their climate actions and policies

by Katerina Cerna, Catherine Cameron and Mark Kelleher

The 2015 Paris Agreement represented a key milestone in the fight against climate change. 187 countries ratified the Convention, committing to take urgent action to achieve a carbon-neutral and resilient world by mid-century. Countries pledged to intensify their efforts and turn commitments into action on the ground. In 2018, guidelines for implementing the Agreement detailed “how” to get there. One important element is the requirement for countries to carry out the enhanced framework for the transparency of action and support, tracking climate efforts and progress towards commitments, including through national transparency reports and reviews every two years. Achieving these requires countries to generate reliable, transparent and comprehensive data on their actions and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Having comprehensive data and information frameworks in place enables countries not only to report internationally on their climate action, but also for them to formulate better policies supporting national development. However, this is easier said than done – countries are at different stages of development, with different levels of capacity. Equipping countries with the proper tools and resources is the key to making that happen – this is where ICAT comes in.

Moving from daunting to empowering: improving climate action transparency.

The Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT) [1]. has been working with countries since 2016, providing policymakers with tools and support to measure and assess the effects of their climate actions. This is done through capacity building projects in over 30 countries that strongly focus on country needs and priorities; providing technical support as well as tools and guides, to advance domestic transparency frameworks and assess the impacts of national and subnational climate policies and actions.

Some key lessons

Focusing on identification of country needs increases country ownership and enhances impact:

ICAT’s strong focus on country ownership has resulted in a portfolio of capacity building projects that are country led and closely aligned with climate action transparency needs and priorities. Countries themselves implement projects and/or team up with national experts, while ICAT provides the tools and technical assistance to help them increase their capacity and provide the right people with the right skills. Country representatives value ICAT’s approach, which focuses on a consultation process with key national stakeholders to identify gaps and needs, therefore each country project is unique.

An example from Sri Lanka

Discussions with national stakeholders highlighted strong progress on tracking and reporting climate action in the energy sector, but identified the transport sector as an area for further support. This sector is the second highest GHG emitter in Sri Lanka and prior to ICAT support, this sector was only collecting data for individual organizational requirements and within organizational boundaries. ICAT partnered with the Climate Change Secretariat of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. As a result of ICAT’s support, Sri Lanka has successfully developed a new national MRV system for the transport sector, with implementation of this system to be guided by a roadmap that has already been developed and agreed. The Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation is the focal point for the MRV system, with other relevant institutions supporting data collection and submission of information to enable relevant and timely measurement and reporting against Sri Lanka’s transport sector Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). An improved MRV system was used to update Sri Lanka’s NDC actions in the transport sector, and these proposals are now feeding into the national policy process.

Enhanced governance and institutional structures help to strengthen capacity for transparency

Each country is at different stages of their Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system development. While some are just starting, in others ICAT is enhancing governance and strengthening institutional structures that countries already have in place.

An example from Ghana

ICAT has been working with the Environment Protection Agency since 2017, in order to operationalize their existing MRV system, the Ghana Climate Ambition Reporting Program (GCARP). This was adopted as its MRV system in 2013 to put in place a workable climate data management system, to support regular national and international reporting of information on GHG emissions and climate actions. Although the system was well designed, implementation of its various components has progressed at different speeds and levels. As a result, a need was identified for it to be better embedded and more functional, and ICAT is supporting the government to develop more timely data sharing. With this support a network of data champions has been established to support climate action tracking and is already operational, with 20 champions from various line ministries, across the public sector and civil society organizations (CSOs). This network has been devised so that each data champion is responsible for a specific NDC, with 10 ‘lead’ and 10 ‘back up’ champions.

Legal architecture, supported by an enhanced governance structure plays a key role in sustaining regular tracking of countries’ efforts

While institutional arrangements are important, for example for preparing reports and coordinating information, strengthening or establishing the legal structure can be a key enabling factor for sustaining periodic assessment and reporting of countries’ climate efforts.

An example from Costa Rica

ICAT is building the capacity of the National Climate Change Metrics System to strengthen national level MRV, with a particular focus on the transport sector. The project responded to a nationally identified need to develop formal institutional arrangements for improved climate-related data collection and management. This included establishment of clear roles and responsibilities across the data collection and reporting system. ICAT’s support has made a significant contribution to the enhanced system through gap analysis and recommendations for strengthening data collection, management and sharing, which have been embedded into legal instruments that were drafted as part of the project. Further, the assessment of the sustainable development benefits of climate mitigation actions in transport sector, supported by ICAT, helped to establish links between impacts and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Drawing on this work, the integration of a sustainable development benefits assessment in a transformational change context into Costa Rica’s Metrics System is the focus of ICAT’s second phase in the country.

Capacity building in the use of tools and guides helps to build country ability to report on climate action

ICAT’s focus on technical level staff has been an important part of its strategy, in order to build lasting knowledge and technical skills on climate action transparency at country and/or subnational levels. Country partners highlight that technicians from across a wide range of national institutions have enhanced their MRV skills and now have a better understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities and are able to apply new tools to monitor climate action and adapt them to their country’s special needs and circumstances.

An example from Ghana

ICAT trained key technical staff, including newly identified ‘data champions’ from across government and civil society, on the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Cost Model (GACMO), an open-source software tool. Subsequent application of the GACMO tool has made it possible for Ghana to assess the emissions reductions and cost implications of individual mitigation actions in the NDC. It has also helped stakeholders to aggregate the effects of these individual actions to develop robust emissions reduction targets. The tool was further developed by the Ghanaian experts into an NDC tracking tool. GACMO was also the main tool used by Ghana in the assessment of mitigation actions when compiling the country’s second Biennial Update report (BUR) to the UNFCCC. It is also expected to contribute to Ghana’s NDC revision in 2020.

ICAT guides are used to assess climate policies and actions

ICAT has developed a series of sector-specific and cross-cutting guides for measuring GHG emissions reductions of climate change policies and actions, along with sustainable development outcomes and transformational change. These guides aim to enable countries to meaningfully and systematically assess impacts and improve policy. Countries reported that the application of ICAT guides often resulted in new data, improved systems, knowledge and momentum for enhanced climate action.

An example from Mozambique

ICAT’s Renewable Energy Methodology was used to assess and estimate the expected additional renewable energy capacity and GHG emissions reductions of the national Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff (REFiT) policy ex-ante. It identified that full implementation of REFiT could provide emissions reductions additional to the NDC target equivalent to 0.17 MtCO2eq by 2025, and 2.2 MtCO2eq by 2030, meaning that the NDC ambition for the electricity production sub-sector could be raised by 13.7% by 2025, and 24% by 2030. Clearly documenting the potential emissions reductions of the REFiT policy has helped build renewed momentum and is expected to speed up implementation of the policy.

Strengthening of climate transparency can enable countries to leverage additional climate finance

While this has not been a key focus of the ICAT programme, some country partners have demonstrated clear connections between ICAT’s capacity building support and opportunities for new climate finance. In Sri Lanka, for example, data collected as a result of ICAT support has helped the Ministry of Transport to make a presentation to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) on the need for climate finance to support the country’s transport sector NDCs. In other countries, ICAT has acted as a first mover, helping countries to access additional funding and support from larger programmes, like the Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT).

Identifying and sharing learning is helpful in strengthening transparency within and between countries

Building or developing capacity takes time and requires countries to “learn by doing.” Capacity cannot be built overnight. Expectations that countries will immediately be able to fulfil their requirements under the enhanced transparency framework are unrealistic. The process of learning and building capacity needs to be more effective to enable faster progress.

An example from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic

ICAT has supported a ‘peer to peer’ learning exchange between Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The countries were implementing similar ICAT projects, focused on establishing a legal framework for MRV, with Costa Rica slightly ahead in terms of project delivery. Recognizing the regional and project similarities between the two countries, ICAT arranged for a team of three people to travel from the Dominican Republic to Costa Rica in April 2019 to learn more about the work being done there. The exchange provided a timely opportunity for the Dominican Republic team, supporting key stakeholders engaged in the ICAT project to gain valuable insights and knowledge from Costa Rica’s experience. Counterparts in Costa Rica shared techniques for unlocking institutional challenges to MRV, highlighting for example the importance of creating multiple opportunities for stakeholder engagement, awareness raising and capacity building to sensitize individuals and institutions to the benefits of MRV and to support negotiations around prime responsibilities.


Despite many decades of cooperation under the Convention, developing countries can struggle to build a sustainable institutional capacity to regularly communicate, share, and review their efforts to reduce GHG emissions and adapt.

  • ICAT has helped to increase countries’ capacities to establish or strengthen their domestic transparency frameworks.
  • ICAT has been crucial in creating strong awareness and increased political momentum for enhanced MRV across a range of stakeholders, highlighting the benefits of improved policy monitoring for both global climate and national development, and gaps in national level MRV, both in terms of data management and reporting compliance.
  • ICAT support has already showed impacts in some of the partner countries, which includes improvements in national climate policy processes, the development of new institutional frameworks for MRV, the introduction and use of new or refined GHG emissions inventories, and actual or expected improvements in the accuracy of their reporting to the UNFCCC.
  • ICAT has often helped to reinvigorate national efforts to comply with UNFCCC requirements and adhere to the Paris Agreement Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF). There is more work to be done, however, in fully operationalizing MRV systems and strengthening action is various sectors.
  • ICAT is starting its second phase now and increasing its thematic reach to include adaptation.
  • ICAT is ready to support additional countries and deepen and continue support with countries in next phase to build on its successes.
  1. ICAT was created as an unincorporated multi-stakeholder partnership by the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), ClimateWorks Foundation (CWF), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), and the Italian Ministry for the Environment, Land and Sea (IMELS). ICAT is delivered by four main implementing partners: The UNEP DTU Partnership (UDP); Verra (previously Verified Carbon Standards); World Resource Institute (WRI); and The Institute for Environmental Protection and Research (ISPRA)

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