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5 Reasons Why It Matters That The US & China Joined The Paris Agreement

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Originally published on The Climate Reality Project.

The US and China have joined the Paris Agreement. Here’s what it means for the climate.

When 175 countries and parties officially signed the Paris Agreement on Earth Day this year, it marked a critical moment in the fight to end climate change. But signing the agreement in front of the cameras at the UN was only the first step.

For the Paris Agreement to go into effect, it needs to be formally approved by at least 55 countries that, together, contribute at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Which means the world’s biggest emitters, like the US and China, need to get on board.

And now, the US and China, the world’s two largest greenhouse gas emitters, have joined the Paris Agreement.

With the two largest emitters on board, the outlook for the Paris Agreement – and the climate – is looking bright. But getting to this point has been a long – and sometimes confusing – process.

To keep you up to speed, here are the five things you need to know about the US and China’s approval of the Paris Agreement.

1. The US and China together make up almost 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions

The US and China are the world’s top greenhouse gas producers. Not exactly something to crow about, but in the past two years in particular, the countries have made enormous strides – together – to clean up their acts. By joining the Paris Agreement, they’re making good on their promises to take climate action.

China’s Paris Agreement commitments include peaking its CO2 emissions around 2030 – and some analyses show that China is on track to achieve that goal much earlier than expected. The country will also launch a national cap and trade program in 2017. Meanwhile, China aims to increase the share of non-fossil fuels in its primary energy consumption to around 20 percent by 2030 and install 800–1,000 gigawatts (GW) of zero-emission facilities, roughly equal to the size of the entire current US electricity grid.

The US, for its part, pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26—28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, accomplishing this goal with existing regulatory authority including the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and improving fuel economy standards for vehicles.

2. The US and China are continuing their leadership and cooperation.

In previous rounds of climate negotiations, politicians in developed nations, and especially in the US, have frequently refused to make real commitments to reducing emissions. That’s because they used China, the world’s biggest carbon emitter, as an excuse. What’s the use of us doing anything to address climate change if China doesn’t address it, too?

While this excuse never really held water, it’s been completely shattered by the progress made over the past two years. Two years ago, the United States and China stood shoulder to shoulder to proclaim their commitment to solving climate change, kickstarting the process that culminated in a worldwide climate agreement in Paris. Then, they jointly declared their intent to sign the Paris Agreement at the UN, leading to the record-breaking signatures of 175 countries on the agreement in one day. Now, the world’s two largest emitters and two largest economies are taking the next step by joining the Paris Agreement.

3. The pressure is on for the rest of the world to follow.

As the first two large nations to join the Paris Agreement, the US and China have set a model for other countries – both developed and developing – around the world to follow.

And the timing couldn’t be better. This announcement, on the eve of the gathering of the G20, set a bold precedent for the rest of the world’s major economies to follow and highlights the interrelationship between expanding economic prosperity and solving the climate crisis.

Now it’s time for the rest of the world to follow the US and China’s lead and formally approve the Paris Agreement.

4. Chances are looking good for early enforcement, well ahead of the 2020 target.

Once the Paris Agreement is formally approved by at least 55 countries that, together, contribute 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it will go into effect after 30 days. But the target for meeting this goal was originally set for 2020.

Here’s the good news: as of August 30, 23 nations had formally approved the Paris Agreement, but they account for just one percent of global emissions). When the US and China officially came on board, that emissions number jumped to over 39 percent. With Laos joining just days after the US and China, and Brazil expected soon, the agreement now only needs 28 countries that comprise 14 percent of emissions to join.

Considering the urgent need, countries aren’t waiting to take action – and why should they? We have all the tools we need to solve the climate crisis today. And that means countries are more than willing to approve the agreement now instead of waiting for the problem to get worse. The result: The Paris Agreement could come into effect before the end of 2016.

5. It opens the door to increase ambitions for all countries

With the very real possibility of having the agreement in effect before the end of the year, we can get to the hard work of implementing and increasing the commitments to solving climate change.  When it comes to climate action, there’s no time to waste. And with major countries signing on and speeding up the process, there’s real hope for increasing the emissions reduction targets. If we want to prevent catastrophic climate change, we’ll need stronger ambitions from today’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters. And by reducing GHG emissions faster, the impact will be amplified and our climate safer for all of us.

What’s Next

There’s still more work to be done, as both countries now have to translate their nationally determined commitments in the Paris Agreement into action, including legislation and regulation. But this announcement is a big deal – and a big step forward for the planet.

We hope that you’re as excited as we are. With the US and China joining the agreement, signs are that other major economies will soon begin following suit. To stay connected and hear the latest developments as more nations accept the Paris Agreement, sign up to join our email activist list, and follow Climate Reality on FacebookTwitter, or Instagram.

Reprinted with permission.

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