A fitness regimen for the planet

MRV systems for low-carbon transport: What they are, how they work

This article is part of our #StoriesofChange where we profile the work of our partner countries in developing climate actions in transport. Read more #StoriesOfChange and follow the Hashtag on Twitter.  


MRV systems in a nutshell

Have you ever started a new diet or fitness regimen? As any nutritionist or personal trainer will tell you, having a plan is essential. In other words, motivation is not enough. To make genuine progress, you need to be systematic. Specifically, you need to assess your current situation; to define appropriate goals and actions; and to track your progress. All three of these activities are united by a dependence on data – e.g. concerning your calorie intake, current weight, or the number of kilometres you run each week.

A Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) system is essentially no different. Indeed, climate action could be described a “fitness regimen” for the planet. To keep global warming below 1.5C, governments need to take stock of the status quo; define abatement targets and associated measures for attaining them; and monitor progress achieved. All of these measures depend on a robust MRV system.

We at Changing Transport have been supporting countries with the development and implementation of MRV systems for over ten years. In this article, we shed light on MRV systems – exploring what they are and how they work – using examples from our past work in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Kenya, Indonesia, Peru, Uganda and Viet Nam.


MRV systems are used to keep track of various factors and trends, including in particular: 

  1. current greenhouse gas emissions in the form of Greenhouse Gas inventories.  
  1. successful emission reductions in the form of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Action (NAMA) or Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC); and  
  1. support received in implementing climate goals in the form of climate finance. 

In the 2007 Bali Action Plan, countries agreed to develop capacities for Measuring, Reporting, and Verifying their emission reduction efforts. Building upon the IPCC guidelines for GHG inventories, the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) provides general guidance on the design of MRV systems. However, the transport sector has its own unique characteristics and measurement challenges. Accordingly, in 2014, GIZ published an MRV Blueprint for Transport in collaboration with experts and partnering countries. The approaches described in this document were further refined as Peru and Indonesia (acting with GIZ’s support) became global frontrunners in the formulation of Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) for the transport sector. Specifically, in 2014, the Ministry of Transport in Peru began to address the urban transport sector, building a robust MRV system that has detailed protocols for reporting and verifying mitigation. Since 2017, Indonesia’s Sustainable Urban Transport Program (SUTRI NAMA) has been supporting policy formulation at the national level and will achieve an estimated indirect mitigation impact of 222,600 tCO2e over 2022–2032. Indonesia’s MRV system was essential for the quantification of this mitigation impact.  

Another important milestone in the development of MRV systems was the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Each signatory to the Paris Agreement is obliged to submit a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). Yet formulating an NDC requires a great deal of hard data. Accordingly, prior work performed in signatory countries to establish MRV systems in connection NAMAs proved to be extremely valuable. Some countries, however – such as Tunisia – lacked experience formulating mitigation actions. Hence, the TRANSfer project helped Tunisia to develop a detailed mitigation concept for the transport sector, which was included in the country’s 2015 NDC. Alongside the expansion of renewable energy, measures in the transport sector will account for the bulk of the mitigation achieved up to 2030 (namely, 37% of the calculated emission reduction). 

With the adoption of the Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF) under the Paris Agreement, countries pledged to enhance their existing MRV systems by adhering to clearer rules and standards for data collection and reporting. The ETF builds on existing MRV principles; it establishes a common reporting format and enhances clarity regarding ambitions and progress. The ETF requires national GHG inventories as well as NDC reporting. While the ETF guidance applies to both developed and developing countries, it also provides flexibility to account for divergent national capacities.  

We will explore the consequences of the ETF for the transport sector in an upcoming publication. 

Source: UNFCCC, M. Pillay 2020
Source: UNFCCC, M. Pillay 2020

Measurement and Monitoring: The key to robust data  

The M in MRV technically stands for both measurement and monitoring; it thus encompasses both regular data collection (measurement) and the tracking of progress based on those data (monitoring). Once you have identified the forms of data that you require, the next step is to obtain them. However, this can give rise to numerous challenges. For example, some forms of data might not be accessible or not readily available. Alternatively, some categories of data may be proprietary and in the hands of private-sector organisations. Yet another common problem is that data may be old, and thus unsuitable, as tracking progress requires accurate and current data. All of these difficulties underscore that data collection is no easy task. Indeed, it requires an appropriately trained staff and substantial resources.  

However, countries have been rising to the challenges associated with data collection. The Ministry of Transport in Viet Nam, for example, has been using GIZ’s TrIGGER tool to account for the country’s main sources of transport sector emissions. The tool employs a streamlined and bottom-up data collection process in combination with an emphasis on available and collectable data. The tool quickly spotlighted the measures with the highest mitigation potential: specifically, improving the energy efficiency of vehicle; shifting freight transport from road to waterways or railways; and shifting from private vehicles to public transport and cleaner fuels. This assessment laid the foundation for transport measures in Viet Nam’s 2020 NDC.  

Uganda and the Dominican Republic have also gone through similar processes: Together with TraCS staff, they collected data and conducted a status-quo inventory of GHG emissions. These data were used to develop emission reduction models, which enabled the evaluation and prioritisation of different mitigation actions. Uganda’s data collection process highlighted both the opportunities and challenges faced when transitioning to sustainable transport. 

What if important data are missing? A crucial distinction is whether data are unavailable or merely inaccessible, as these are two distinct problems. If data are unavailable – i.e. do not exist – then you must collect them on your own, or hire someone to do so. By contrast, if data are inaccessible – i.e. they exist, are not publicly available – then the solution is to sign a data sharing agreement with the respective data owner, e.g. a national statistical office or private-sector company. 

The possible scope of “in-house” data collection depends crucially on the staffing and financial resources that a country can devote to the MRV process.  Data collection conducted in-house may range from surveying households about their travel behaviour to the solicitation of data on fuel sales to estimate the transport sector activity, and may be gathered by one’s own staff or associated departments of government, or, alternatively, by hiring external experts. When TrIGGER was adopted in Viet Nam, “proxies” were used to overcome gaps in the data. Specifically, if it is not possible to directly collect the data you need (e.g. total fuel sales in a country), one solution is to collect a “proxy” – that is, a related piece of data that allows you to estimate the missing figure. For example, if you know the domestic fuel sales of a single gas station operator, and you know or can estimate the company’s market share, you can easily obtain an estimate of total domestic fuel sales.  

Another important MRV activity is to regularly review the gathered data in order to update the country’s mitigation policies and NDC. In 2019, TraCs and EUROCLIMA+ helped Colombia to update its data collection activities and mitigation scenarios. This included work to accelerate the country’s emissions reduction pathway. 

The UNFCCC Compendium on GHG Baselines and Monitoring is a vast repository of knowledge on how to assess mitigation actions in the transport sector. The measures and process steps that are described in the compendium are adaptable to local circumstances and capacities. Countries can use this knowledge resource to estimate mitigation potential and forecast emissions trends. For a deeper dive on this issue, view our webinar series

Countries can significantly ease the effort required to compile data as well as improve data availability by adopting a sustainable and robust data collection system in line with the UN’s statistical requirements compendium and by encouraging cooperation between additional official data collectors (e.g. between the national statistical office and motor vehicle department). For example, it is now standard practice for Kenya’s aviation authorities to report their data on a quarterly basis to the national bureau of statistics. However, changing data collection and sharing practices takes time. The EU, for example, needed over two decades to develop its system, while many developing countries started just some years ago. To be sure, Rome wasn’t built in a day – but every successful #StoryofChange starts with a first step. 

Reporting: The key to transparency  

In the reporting phase of the MRV system, information on data collection and analysis activities are shared with relevant stakeholders. Reporting can take various forms, such as a GHG inventory or report on NDC implementation. Yet whatever their form, reports should enable both internal and external stakeholders to clearly understand what has been done, when and how. Based on national and global reports, for example, we know that transport sector emissions rebounded after the COVID-19 lockdowns, “growing by 8% to nearly 7.7 Gt CO2” in 2021. Furthermore, passenger cars are the main polluter, representing 41% of emissions in the sector (see the IEA Tracking Report for Transport). These are important statistics that would not exist without national MRV systems in place.  

Working in close collaboration with the TraCs project, the Kenyan Department of Transport quickly assumed a vanguard role in the country, inaugurating the first sector-specific annual report on emissions and climate change actions (with the third edition expected in 2022; see here and here). The report shows how transport contributes to climate change, highlights progress in cutting emissions, and describes planned transformation measures. 

While such reports are highly valuable for national policymakers, they are not designed exclusively for domestic consumption. Indeed, it is important to adhere to UNFCCC requirements and international standards, in order to ease the work of international climate experts who collect and analyse such data. In line with this consideration, TraCs assisted Kenya with the development of Data Collection Templates for Climate Change Reporting. The templates provide guidance to third parties who are engaged in data collection and reporting, both in relation to measuring current emissions and tracking abatement progress. 

Source: GIZ-Transport-Flickr

Verification: The key to effective impact  

Verification involves confirming the accuracy and robustness of the previous two steps. This aspect of the MRV system can be the trickiest – but only if the M and R are not fully developed or somehow deficient. The IPCC has published guidelines for verification practices that is available here. The four most common verification formats are as follows: 

  1. The “two-person rule”, which means that two individuals check the data. For example, you can ask a colleague within your agency to review your work. 
  1. Verification can also be done within a working group that is composed of staff members from various departments of government. This can help to increase the transparency and credibility of data submitted to the high-level politicians and public.  
  1. One can also draw on external verification experts to accompany the process and/or help to build departmental capacities. Local universities may have expertise in this area.  

Ideally, the verification process should not only enhance the robustness of the data, but also directly improve the data management capacities of relevant staff. Demonstrating good data collection and verification practices can be vital for tapping into national and international funding. Yet another important aspect of the process is to document the verification activities themselves, in order to correct deficits and ensure adherence to best practice. 

Ultimately, MRV systems are crucial for the evidence-based development, implementation and monitoring of climate action measures. As the Vietnamese Ministry of Transport puts it: “Government agencies are only able to set effective reduction policies if they can accurately determine energy consumption and GHG emissions, and monitor the results of reduction initiatives.” 

Source: fauxels, Pexels
Source: fauxels, Pexels

Want to learn more and improve your fitness when it comes to fighting climate change?   

At Changing Transport, we have been helping developing and emerging economies to formulate and implement socially beneficial climate action measures in the transport sector for over ten years, including in Chile, Colombia, China, India, Morocco, Kenya, Indonesia, and Viet Nam. 

The Changing Transport Transparency Toolkit provides step-by-step guidance for the development and implementation of an MRV system, drawing on strategies and methods tested and proven in real-world settings.  

Transport Week 2018 Day 1, Source: GIZ Transport, Flickr
Transport Week 2018 Day 1, Source: GIZ Transport, Flickr

Additional inspiring stories are available on our website. 

©Nataliya Vaitkevich/ Pexels
Author(s)