In theory, oversight on climate change is not all that different from oversight on any other issue. In practice however, the demands and complexities of oversight and budgeting on climate change come with some noteworthy challenges. They also take on increased importance in the face of the urgent need for bigger budgets and improved implementation capacities.
This module reviews some of the key mechanisms and strategies that can help strengthen a parliament’s oversight capacities on climate change and energy. For more information on parliamentary oversight, please click here.
The first step towards effective oversight on climate change is the development of clear guidelines, targets and indicators by which to evaluate the implementation of laws and regulations. These should be set out during the legislative drafting process, and should be designed with a view to preparing clear, accessible reports and assessments. In this regard, the benefits of developing flagship legislation for oversight purposes are clear. An overarching, national ‘climate law’ identifies the main targets or objectives to be reached and serves as a legal climate umbrella, giving government departments, parliamentarians, and local actors a good sense of how progress will eventually be measured. Setting national targets for renewable energy development or carbon emissions, for example, allows parliamentarians to see quite quickly whether implementation is on the right track; from there, they can dig a little deeper and see whether further amendments, more funding or improved implementation is required.
Secondly, oversight procedures can be facilitated by the introduction of reporting provisions into climate change legislation. A common barrier to effective oversight is the lack of data and reports for parliamentarians to work with. Without the necessary information coming through from government departments, the auditor-general and other relevant bodies, proper oversight is virtually impossible. By legally enshrining a ministry or department’s obligation to report on a regular basis, parliamentarians are much more likely to receive the information they need in time to carry out their oversight functions. Doing so also provides additional grounds for calling ministers and department heads to account when reports fail to come through.
Finally, where climate change is being ‘mainstreamed’ across a range of sectors and departments, effective oversight requires considerable coordination. The responsible parliamentary committee needs to monitor the government department responsible for climate change, but also the relevant budget lines and activities housed in other departments. Most notably this will include departments of energy, infrastructure and planning or agriculture and economics, but as climate change is mainstreamed into more and more fields, virtually all departments will have some activities aimed at tackling climate change and building resilience.
Parliamentary Action: Entry Points for Parliamentarians
Parliamentarians have a range of oversight tools at their disposal. Drawing on their representative function, parliamentarians can convene relevant stakeholders to learn their perspectives on the implementation of law(s) and funding by the government. These are the people who are directly impacted by the government’s actions and who will know what is happening ‘on the ground’. Parliamentarians can consult with them, either as a multilateral group or bilaterally, on a regular basis.
Where relevant, parliaments can organise field visits to witness first hand if and how the initiatives are being managed, and what further legislative action or funding might be required to facilitate implementation.
Beyond this, most parliaments organise a ‘question time’ that offers parliamentarians the opportunity to put questions to government ministers and officials. Based on information gathered from consultations or research conducted by the parliamentarians or their staff, a question (or, if allowed, a series of questions) can be developed in writing or orally, that will require the minister to state the government’s position for the record, the media, and the public. If the question is timely or the answer is politically controversial, the parliamentarian may garner media attention that can further promote reforms to current laws, funding, or issues of implementation.
Last but not least, parliamentarians can carry out their oversight tasks through participation in committee hearings. Many parliaments provide specific rules for a committee to request and receive documentation, or to require a minister or senior government official to testify and answer questions. A parliamentarian who is a member of a committee with jurisdiction over a subject related to climate change should encourage that committee to hold hearings and conduct regular investigations into the actions of the government. This provides important insights into the government’s ability to effectively implement current law(s) and properly allocate funding from the state budget.
- Monitoring climate change budgets
Budget oversight is traditionally the prerogative of the parliament’s Budget and Finance or Public Account Committee, who can engage the support of an independent Auditor-General where greater detail as to the costs and expenditures is required. Sectoral committees may also contribute to oversight of their specific sectors.
Where climate change is concerned, parliamentary oversight of the budget draws on many of the challenges and mechanisms mentioned above. Clear targets, a transparent flow of information and strong coordination are all important requirements for effective monitoring of government spending. A notable additional challenge, however, is the source of the funding earmarked for climate change activities. In many countries a great deal of climate change related activities – in particular with regard to energy and adaptation – is supported by external funds that may not always pass through parliament. Financial injections from aid agencies, private donors and companies (among others through Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives), development actors and international organizations make up a sizeable chunk of climate change funding. This presents parliaments with two important additional challenges.
Firstly, while such funding is much needed, it often does not constitute a reliable revenue stream. Foreign aid may be delayed beyond the control of the relevant department or agency, leading to implementation delays and failures; large one-off contributions may skew annual budgets and lead to spending inefficiencies; and multi-year programmes may be cancelled or extended. It is extremely difficult for governments to develop medium to long-term plans with such uncertainties regarding available revenues. Parliaments, similarly, will need to take such circumstances into account when assessing government spending and implementation progress.
Secondly, government departments may engage with these donors on a bilateral basis, and such arrangements do not always leave sufficient room for effective and transparent parliamentary oversight of these funds. Many countries have seen the creation of ‘committees’ and ‘programmes’ on climate change, some of which are generously funded but many of which seem to fall outside of parliament’s scope of action. Where funding is disbursed to such programmes directly, reports tend to be directed to the respective donor or development partner, not to the government and, by extension, parliament.
This does not mean that these initiatives are not valuable, or that such programmes are poorly implemented or insufficiently monitored. However, even where such funds are put to much-needed use, it is important that parliament is engaged or at least informed of relevant work plans, spending and implementation. Parliaments are only able to develop and enact effective, longer-term policy frameworks on climate change if they have all the information; this means that they need to be accepted as key stakeholders in these processes. ‘Independent’ initiatives funded by foreign funds should be tailored to strengthen, not weaken, parliament’s law-making, representation and oversight functions.
Some aid agencies and development partners have identified robust oversight and transparency of budgetary processes as a key requirement for receiving climate finance. The European Commission, for example, lists a stable macro-economic framework, a public finance reform process and clear and transparent budget processes among its key criteria for climate finance support. This is not the case for all donors or investors, however. To improve transparency, strengthen accountability and avoid misuse of valuable funds, parliament’s oversight prerogatives and capacities should be strengthened where possible.
- Budgeting for climate change
Effective oversight is not only important for ensuring transparent and cost-effective spending, it is also crucial to obtaining much-needed climate funding. The World Bank estimates that up to USD 100 billion of climate adaptation funding will be needed throughout the next 40 years in developing countries alone. Successful climate change mitigation, drawing on various forms of carbon pricing and renewable energy development, is projected to cost considerably more still. Public budgets cannot cover such costs alone, meaning that private investment is necessary to move forward. Successfully securing funding, however, will require more transparent, stable investment frameworks for the private sector to engage with.
Parliamentarians can facilitate private sector involvement by removing red tape and strengthening policies and regulations that encourage and protect such involvement. Effective parliamentary oversight, however, is just as critical: private investors will only be attracted by improved legal frameworks and regulations if they trust that these measures will actually be put in place, and that the protections they are offered are guaranteed. As such, parliaments can play a pivotal role in ‘de-risking’ investments – not only by building better policy frameworks, but by stepping up their oversight functions and protecting the rights and regulations they endorse.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that “Among developing and some least developed countries, an emerging trend is the establishment of national funding entities dedicated to climate change. While diverse in design and objectives, they tap and blend international and national sources of finance, thereby helping to improve policy coherence and address aid fragmentation.” While such funding entities may certainly prove valuable and efficient – at this point it is too soon to tell – it is important that they are open to parliamentary inputs and do not hinder the institution’s critical oversight tasks.
Finally, many international organisations and grant-making organisations provide financial support for climate change action. The Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Climate Investment Funds (CIF) are two of many initiatives that governments may want to turn to. For more information on climate funding and financial instruments, please visit the Additional Resources page.
- How do your participants typically carry out their oversight functions? Do they work primarily in committee, ask parliamentary questions, take part in hearings, …?
- How do government departments and agencies report to parliament? What kind of information is made available to MPs, and how useful is this? What steps could be taken to improve reporting standards and transparency?
- How are existing climate change and energy laws being implemented? How involved have your participants been in monitoring the implementation? What resources and staff support are available to assist them in this?
- How do your participants view the work of the Auditor General? Is this office actively used by the parliament? Could more be done to draw on its expertise and resources?
- Ask parliamentary questions
- Getting the facts: reporting & monitoring
- Engage the Auditor-General
- Parliamentary committee hearings
- Call on your government
- Organise a field visit
MPs can ask parliamentary questions to obtain information, and to assess how the government is implementing legislation.
In the framework of the Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) project, the Climate Parliament’s Moroccan Members of Parliament drafted 25 parliamentary questions, thirteen of which were subsequently raised by MPs in plenary sessions of the National Assembly and meetings of the Energy and Environment committees. The questions focussed on several areas, including the ability of the Moroccan Government to reach its target of a 42% share for renewables in the energy mix by 2020; the progress of the Ouarzazate concentrated solar power plant, Morocco's flagship renewable energy facility; future budget allocations for renewable energy; efforts to make the Moroccan Renewable Energy Agency more proactive; and others.
The implementation of climate change legislation, especially where targets and concrete commitments are concerned, should be carefully monitored. As an MP, you can push to ensure that such legislation stipulates reporting and monitoring provisions. This could include the provision of quarterly implementation and progress reports by the relevant department(s), but you could also take it further.
In recent years, several countries have created dedicated bodies to advise and monitor government action on climate change. The UK Committee on Climate Change (the CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008. Its purpose is to advise the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on emissions targets and report to Parliament on progress made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and preparing for climate change. In fulfilling this role, the Committee’s focus is to provide independent advice to Government on setting and meeting carbon budgets and preparing for climate change; monitor progress in reducing emissions and achieving carbon budgets; conduct independent analysis into climate change science, economics and policy.
Denmark, too, has recently enacted a climate change law that calls for the establishment of an independent, scientific climate change council that will monitor implementation to ensure that commitments and targets are met.
The Auditor General (or equivalent) has the authority to monitor spending and expenditures, and to conduct audits where necessary. As an MP, you can draw on the services of this office to stay informed of government expenditures, and to ensure that spending is transparent and in line with approved legislation and provisions.
In Tanzania, a special audit was carried out by the Auditor General’s office after opposition MPs raised anti-corruption allegations in the energy sector. The report was submitted to the Public Accounts Committee for review, which eventually moved to dismiss several government officials.
One of the core functions of a parliamentary committee is to monitor the actions of the government and to hold it accountable. Many parliaments provide specific rules for a committee to request and receive documentation, or to require a minister or senior government official to testify and answer questions. A parliamentarian who is a member of a committee with jurisdiction over a subject related to renewable energy (e.g. economic development, environment, rural development, natural resources) should encourage that committee to hold hearings and conduct regular investigations into the actions of the government. This provides important insights into the government’s ability to effectively implement current law(s) and properly allocate funding from the state budget.
The European Parliament’s Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety is organizing a hearing on “EU air quality policy: Reducing national emisions beyond 2020”. The hearing is part of the preparation of the ENVI report on the proposed revision of the National Emission Ceilings Directive. Experts will address in two panels health and environmental issues in air quality control as well as specific aspects of different economic sectors and geographical regions.
Parliamentarians can put pressure on their government to implement legislation, especially when they see that progress is lagging or that the necessary steps are not being taken. MPs can do this by asking for updates through parliamentary questions, or even by using their right of interpellation. Alternatively, they can choose to submit a set of questions and/or recommendations to the relevant government minister. Such a letter can be signed by a larger number of MPs and thus carries more weight, especially when submitted or handed over publicly.
In a pre-budget meeting with the Bangladesh State Minister of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, MPs from the Climate Parliament submitted a list of issues and demands to the Government surrounding the development of renewable energy in the country, for consideration in the run-up to the Budget session of Bangladesh Parliament in June. In the meeting, the Bangladesh State Minister of Power, Mr Nasrul Hamid, stated that the executive order to establish the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority (SREDA) will be issued this week by the Bangladeshi Government, with the organisation expected to open in July 2014. Having played a key role in passing the legislation which established the Authority in 2012, Climate Parliament MPs then challenged the government over delays to the implementation of the new law. It took more than a year of various parliamentary actions – including meetings with the Power Minister, Memorandums to the Finance Minister, interventions in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy, and round-table discussions with government officials, experts and MPs – to secure a government commitment to making sure SREDA is established.
Field visits are an excellent way for MPs to see with their own eyes how policies and programmes are being implemented on the ground. They have also proved very helpful in building awareness and support for climate change. MPs who have seen impacted areas after floods or droughts, or who have visited solar and wind farms, tend to be more responsive to the realities of climate change and the potential of green energy development. They may also, crucially, be more aware of the pitfalls and weaknesses of some of the legislation pertaining to these issues.
In China, the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress dispatched a team of inspectors to 10 cities and provinces to oversee the implementation of new pollution policies. The team found some local officials continued to pursue GDP growth at the expense of the environment, according to details published on China's parliament website. China has adopted a new environmental law that gives local authorities more power to punish wrongdoers, but it only comes into force at the start of next year. According to Calvin Quek with Greenpeace East Asia, until then “local officials simply lack the authority to ensure everyone follows Beijing”.
Aimed at development practitioners and decision makers, this publication offers a roadmap for designing M&E systems for climate change adaptation that help fulfill core principles of aid effectiveness.
This is a presentation by Charles Chauvel, Parliamentary Development Advisor at UNDP, on MPs’ pivotal role in overseeing the executive branch on government, reallocating state budgets and advocating for more rapid policy change.