Counting carbon or counting coal? Anchoring climate governance in fossil fuel-based accountability frameworks

For decades, the object of international climate governance has been greenhouse gases, standardised to tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent. The ongoing inadequacy of decarbonisation efforts based on this system has prompted calls to expand the scope of international climate governance to include restrictions on the supply of fossil fuels. Such initiatives could rely on accountability frameworks based on fossil fuel reserves, production or infrastructure, yet to date there has been little consideration of the different implications for climate governance of each of these options. In this paper the authors analyse various existing schemes for the monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of fossil fuels to consider the potential benefits and drawbacks of each option as an object of climate governance. They identify serious risks from anchoring climate governance in fossil fuel reserves, given that the construction of reserves figures requires extensive expert and values-based judgements by professionals who are accountable only to profit-seeking firms in the fossil fuel industry.