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US & China Ratify Paris Agreement Early

The news broke this morning that the United States and China have renewed their global leadership on climate change by jointly announcing their ratifications of the Paris Agreement on climate change ahead of schedule. The prediction we made last week about the landmark international climate agreement has thus come to pass.

Barack Obama signs the Paris Agreement for the USA (twitter/Brian Deese)

In a ceremony in Hangzhou, China, just before the G20 Summit of industrialized and emerging economies begins, President Barack Obama stood alongside President Xi Jinping and affirmed: “This is the single-best chance that we have to deal with a problem that could end up transforming this planet in a way that makes it very difficult for us to deal with all the other challenges that we may face.”

“The objective of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming well below 2°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible, to increase economic and social ability to adapt to extreme climate, and to direct the scale and speed of global financial flows to match the required path to very low-emission, climate-resilient development,” says the UN news release.

Says Andrew Steer, President & CEO of the World Resources Institute:

“Coming just before the G20 summit in China, these announcements reflect that smart climate action goes hand-in-hand with future economic stability and growth. Their actions open the way for an enduring legacy on climate change that will leave the world better for today’s children and future generations.”

Each of the leaders deposited his country’s official ratification with United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon. The submissions buttress the two nations’ previous joint statements of November 2014 and September 2015. These remarks led to the success of the Paris United Nations meeting (COP21) last December, when 195 countries approved the Paris Agreement. Of these, 175 signed the Agreement on Earth Day this year, the first day it opened for signature. Five others have signed it since. Both developed and developing nations are taking part.

The two countries also announced further cooperation on the previously adopted Montreal Protocol (1989) to phase down hydroflourocarbons (refrigerants that are not covered in the Paris Agreement) and carbon emissions from aviation (about 2% of the world total). They also committed themselves to more domestic climate action.

The United States and China are the first major economies to put their official ratification stamps on  the Paris Agreement toward a low-carbon future. Together, they are the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters. Their emissions comprise about 40% of the world total. Says Nature Conservancy CEO Mark Tercek:

“The announcement today in Beijing that both countries will formally join the Paris Agreement signals important support for the implementation of the Agreement. Their announcement immediately before the meeting of the Group of 20 is particularly timely, and follows the call last week by a group of 130 investors representing over $13 trillion in assets for G20 nations to ratify the Paris agreement.”

The treaty will become UN law 30 days for the deal. the international community has ratified the Paris Agreement. When 55 countries, accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions, approve it domestically and inform the UN, the Agreement will be considered ratified. It can then be applied under international law to bind member countries to their environmental promises.

The nations of the G20 emit over 75% of the world’s carbon pollution. The US and China ratifying the Paris Agreement just before the countries meet thus puts tremendous pressure on the rest of the group to solidify their existing promises.

Swift ratification will signal strong and worldwide commitment to the pact and speed its implementation. The total of ratifying nations now stands at 26, representing 39.1% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Many of these will likely follow through on their commitments as early as this month. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has scheduled a special event for official ratifications on September 21 during the 2016 UN General Assembly.

According to an analysis by the World Resources Institute, a further 31 countries either have committed to join this year or seem extremely likely to. “This would bring us to 57 countries representing 58.4% of emissions—well over the 55:55 threshold this year,” say WRI spokespeople. Ed King of Climate Home is a bit less optimistic:

“The EU’s 28 member states are unlikely to complete ratification until 2017, and it’s not obvious how impending Brexit negotiations will affect Brussels’ ability to get this sorted. Many African and Middle East countries also appear to be taking their time to sign up.”

If the 55-55 threshold is reached by October 7 this year, the first international implementation meeting (“CMA1”) will take place in conjunction with the COP22 UN climate summit in Morocco this November. If the threshold is reached after that, CMA1 will be held at the next major UN climate summit (COP 23) late in 2017. Quicker ratification will thus save a year of implementation time.

Tersek adds: “China has announced it will establish a national emissions trading system in 2017, and many other countries and state-level governments are similarly establishing a price on carbon pollution.” “This is not a fight that any one country no matter how powerful can take alone,” President Obama said of the pact. “Some day we may see this as the moment that we finally decided to save our planet.”

The treaty ratification will practically coincide with the US election. As The Wall Street Journal opined this morning, “The durability of the US commitments largely hinge on November’s presidential election. Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump have taken opposite positions on climate change.” However, President Obama having signed it, the treaty will be in force for at least four more years.

Clinton has espoused the current direction of the US government on climate change and advocates bolder action in some instances. To the disappointment of many green leaders and organizations, she has not yet called for a carbon tax. However, Trump still questions the mainstream science and has vowed to roll back all climate decisions made during President Obama’s eight-year tenure. Practically speaking, such a course would be virtually impossible.

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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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