Mexico has begun a program to make its climate actions more transparent, a move it hopes will raise its credibility in the international community.

If the plan works, it will prove a useful case for developing countries that know they need bulletproof data to draw respect, and cash, in global climate talks.

"This system is a starting point for being more transparent, because the more transparent we are, the more opportunities for financing further actions we will have in the international arena," said Juan Mata Sandoval, director-general of climate change policy at Mexico's Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources.

Mexico has partnered with a U.S. consulting firm to come up with a simpler, more accurate way to collect data on the actions it's taking as part of its climate policy, from factories to forests to trains.

Better data will help Mexico track progress toward its 2012 goal: cutting greenhouse emissions by 6 percent, relative to the year 2000. To meet its longer-term goal, a 50 percent cut by 2050, Mexico has said it will need money and technological help from the global community. And at that point, a track record will help.

From spreadsheets to supercomputers
A year ago, Mexico's different executive agencies were filling out Excel spreadsheets on how they were implementing the country's climate law. They sent these to Sandoval's office, where the data was hand-entered into a database. It was a vast amount of data, it wasn't standardized, and there was, of course, the potential for error.

They contacted Abt Associates, a government consultancy that's based in the United States and has contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.S. EPA. Mexico wanted a system that was on the Internet, easy to use, and guaranteed to have trustworthy data.

Moreover, the government wanted a full report on its climate policy every two months, and a way to check every decimal point and line graph for accuracy.

"That's exactly what investors are looking for, are looking for a credible set of data, are looking for commitment, in this case from the government of Mexico," said Constantin Abarbieritei, Abt Associates' division vice president for international economic growth.

The result essentially looks like a blog dashboard, a setup that any everyday Web surfer can master. Abt designed this system so Mexican officials can look at progress in a sector of the economy, a geographic region or even a specific project, like a factory that has made energy efficiency upgrades.

It seems like a lot of trouble for a country already considered a climate leader among the world's middle-sized economies. But in the international realm, where distrust can run deep, every detail matters.

As the world geared up for climate talks in the Mexican city of Cancun last year, some observers braced for another collision between the world's two biggest emitters, the United States and China, over transparency.

Working with aged inventory
U.S. negotiators knew that to advance a climate bill back home, they'd have to secure some proof that China and other developing nations -- which will cause the majority of world emissions in the future -- will keep their promises.

Chinese negotiators, however, said they wouldn't accept a transparency system that harmed their national sovereignty -- that showed more information than they wanted to, in other words.

In the end, both countries walked away with something, even if it wasn't everything they wanted. The Cancun Agreements request that countries report their greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations every two years and set up a monitoring system to track and evaluate progress (ClimateWire, Dec. 13, 2010).

It's a start, said Doug Boucher, director of climate research and analysis at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

"One real prob with greenhouse gas data is that in many countries, the inventories are years and years out of date," he said. "In some countries, there has only really been one inventory, and that can be in some cases from the early '90s."

Boucher said EPA has been developing software to make it easier to collect these inventories. He drew an analogy to tax-preparation software: The program "knows" thousands of pages of tax law, but it only guides the user through the parts that are relevant to her.

How to bring in China?
In the same way, it's possible to come up with a software program that lets a country put in the data that apply to its unique types of factories, trees, furnaces and so on.

"In a sense, it's a very complex process, but what it eventually does is help you fill out a form," he said.

He said it's possible China would consider such a system, but it'll act more slowly than Mexico because of its sensitivities to sharing information.

As for the software developed by Abt Associates, Indonesia, which ranks third in global greenhouse gas emissions, has expressed interest.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500