The Paris Agreement on climate change — a critical worldwide milestone along the road to containing climate change and implementing resilient low-carbon energy — became international law on Friday, November 4, 2016, after about 20 years of global wrangling. Exactly 30 days ago, it crossed both national and emissions thresholds needed to enter into force.
Says outgoing United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:
“We are the first generation to really feel the effects of climate change–and the last that can prevent its worst consequences. Today shows us what is possible when we join forces for our common future.”
Adopted in December 2015 at the COP21 meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Paris Agreement has been signed so far by 193 nations and ratified or otherwise joined by 97 parties to the UNFCCC representing 69% of global emissions. The international treaty commits all countries to fund low-carbon energy and develop climate action plans adequate to reduce greenhouse gases and contain the earth’s temperature rise “well below 2°C,” which scientists recently specified as the limit of safety. Current thinking views 1.5°C as a more beneficial target.
Fifteen countries formally joined the Agreement on April 22, 2016 (Earth Day), the first day it opened for signatures. Early in September, the world’s two largest emitters, China and the United States, joined the Agreement. The US has pledged to cut 26% to 28% of its emissions by 2025.
Later in the month, during the UN’s General Assembly high-level week, 31 more countries joined. These events propelled other countries to ratify the agreement domestically. The UN now has 98 parties to the Paris Agreement. They represent nearly 70% of global carbon emissions.
The treaty has been fast-tracked since its Paris inception. And a good thing, too, since national contributions announced so far fall short of the Paris temperature goals of about 42 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year by 2030.
A recent scientific assessment of the global progress from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that greenhouse gas emissions will need to fall at least 25% farther than currently pledged amounts (54 to 56 gigatonnes). The existing nationally determined contributions would raise temperatures a full 3°C above pre-industrial levels.
Achieving the 2015 goals requires the world to transform its fossil-based energy system. Less than a year after the initial passage of the Paris Agreement, the world has begun strengthening climate actions in what ClimateNexus calls “the #ParisEffect” — on fossil fuels, renewables, investment and finance, and carbon fuel-related divestment.
The US presidential race between internationally well qualified Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and extreme fossil fuel advocate Donald Trump has caused concern about the future of climate progress in the US — especially after the reactionary Brexit and German leadership votes.
Said John Morton, director for climate and energy at the White House National Security Council, yesterday:
“Obviously there is a great deal of interest internationally on what the election outcome will be – the candidates have very different views on climate – but what we have seen in recent months and years is a recognized inevitability of the transition to a low-carbon economy. The international business and policy community will continue to move forward and there is no question of commitment at policy levels to the letter, intent, and spirit of the Paris Agreement. We will see countries continuing to move forward at a fast clip irrespective of what happens on Tuesday. I think [instead] the question will be how fast the US moves.”
Patricia Espinosa, chief of the UNFCCC, and Salaheddine Mezouar, foreign minister of Morocco and president of the 2016 climate summit, jointly stated in Climate Home:
“Humanity will look back on 4 November 2016 as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future. …
“UN data show global financial flows over the past few years ratcheting up to the point where one trillion dollars a year should be achievable in the near future. This means governments, the multilateral and the private sector raising and allocating tens of billions of dollars at a time towards climate investments.
“The foundations of the Paris Agreement are solid and other key features of humanity’s new home are starting to rise. Yet, we cannot and we must not rest until the roof is in place.”
On Monday, November 7, the 22nd meeting (COP22) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change begins in Marrakesh, Morocco. The two-week gathering this year focuses on decisions relating to the first World Climate Pact (CMA1). Karl Ritter’s AP report today comments on six aspects that will be covered:
- Rules for transparency and accountability to make sure countries fulfill their commitments,
- Ways to cut an additional 12 billion to 14 billion metric tons from annual emissions by 2030 to make up for the expected one-degree shortfall,
- Ways governments in high-polluting countries can cut emissions more deeply before 2020,
- “Road map” showing nations are on track to reach $100 billion in public and private finance,
- Attention to technologies that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (“negative emissions”) that may be needed after 2050, and
- A “reality check” on important developments recently in the fight against climate change (record growth in renewable energy, over 1 million electric cars worldwide, the recent deals on phasing out super-potent greenhouse gases and limiting aviation emissions, 2015 as the hottest year on record and this year expected to top it, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels passing 400 parts per million, and others.