By Nicky Sundt
CSPW Senior Fellow
The United States has failed to meet a key deadline (January 1, 2018) for submitting a major report, required under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Under Section 12 of the UNFCCC, countries listed in Annex I of the Convention (including the US) are required to periodically submit to the Treaty’s Secretariat a detailed “National Communication,” which presents a wide range of information regarding the nation’s implementation of the agreement. UNFCCC guidelines on reporting and review stipulate use of a common format to facilitate analysis and evaluation and allow for comparisons among the national reports. Further, CSPW sees no indication that this report is even underway; a complete failure to submit this report would be unprecedented.
The Parties to the Convention have agreed that the Annex I parties should submit the reports every four years. The Seventh National Communication (NC7) was due on January 1. Once submitted, these reports are promptly posted by the Secretariat. According to the listing, Submitted National Communications from Annex I Parties, the majority of Annex I Parties have already submitted their reports, but the United States is not one of them.
In addition to the National Communication, the US and other Annex I Parties are required to submit smaller “Biennial Reports” to the Secretariat. Here too, there are specific reporting guidelines. The third such report (BR3) was also due on January 1. According to a table published by the UNFCCC, Submitted Biennial Reports from Annex I Parties, the US is among a minority of countries that still have not submitted a report.
Again, a complete failure by the US to submit these reports would be unprecedented; the US has submitted all six previously required National Communications, traditionally calling them “Climate Action Reports.”
Reports and Links to Reports Eliminated from Department of State Website
In addition to failing to produce and deliver CAR7 as required, the Department of State under President Trump has eliminated the previously posted CAR6/BR1 (released on December 30, 2013) from its website. The Department of State previously had posted CAR6/BR1 at https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/219038.pdf. It also eliminated a page devoted to CAR6/BR1 at https://www.state.gov/e/oes/rls/rpts/car6/index.htm (now archived at https://2009-2017.state.gov/e/oes/rls/rpts/car6/index.htm).
Furthermore, the department eliminated a general webpage on the Climate Action Report at www.state.gov/e/oes/climate/climateactionreport/index.htm (it is archived here). The page led with a discussion of BR2 (with a link to the report posted on the UNFCCC), and it ended with a reference to the United States Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Carbonization (November 2016), posted on the White House website. The report has been removed from the White House site, but is archived here.
No Public Indications that Reports are In Progress and Will be Submitted
It is not extraordinary for any nation, including the US, to miss a submission deadline. The table to the right shows the timelines for the previous four reports, indicating that only one of the four met the deadline: CAR6 produced by the Obama Administration was submitted on December 30, 2013, one day before the January 1, 2014 deadline. The record for the most tardy of these reports is held by the George W. Bush Administration, which submitted the CAR4 19 months late, on July 27, 2007.
The first two Biennial Reports were submitted on time under the Obama Administration: on December 30, 2013 (BR1) and December 31, 2015 (BR2).
What is extraordinary is that under the Trump Administration there is no indication that these reports are even in progress. For three of the previous four reports, the launching of the production process was announced in the Federal Register up to eight months before the reports were due to the UNFCCC Secretariat. In addition, drafts of all four previous reports were made available for public review through the Federal Register.
So far, no Federal Register notices have been published, and there is no readily available public information suggesting that the reports are underway. CSPW sent a letter to Trigg Talley, Director of the Office of Global Change at the State Department, on October 26, 2017, asking about the status of the reports but did not receive a response.
Does the Trump Administration intend to submit these reports? If so, when? Will there be opportunities for public review and comment of drafts? Or does the Trump Administration plan to not submit the reports at all – a violation of our treaty obligations? These questions must be asked – and answered.
Nicky Sundt is CSPW’s Senior Fellow. She is an expert on energy and climate change with over 35 years of experience and accomplishment in government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector. During the fellowship, Nicky will watch over and report on key US federal climate science obligations under law – especially those relating to communications to the President, Congress, and the public.