Why the Paris Agreement’s early entry into force is crucial

MELISSA LOW Today 27 Sep 16;

The Paris Agreement on climate change adopted by nearly 200 countries last December is inching towards its entry into force, as 60 countries accounting for 47.5 per cent of the world’s emissions have deposited instruments of ratification to the United Nations (UN).

At a special “High-Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change” convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week, 31 countries including Singapore formally joined the Paris Agreement, moving the landmark deal closer to reality.

It is likely that the deal will reach the double threshold — 55 countries representing 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions — to enter into force this year.

The agreement received a big boost earlier in the month when United States and China — the world’s two largest emitters of greenhouse gases — ratified the agreement on the sidelines of the G20 Summit in Hangzhou.

The ratification move by the global community to act on climate change is important, as it significantly catalyses climate action around the world and demonstrates support of the countries that have joined the agreement.

The rapid pace of ratification is unprecedented, despite laggards such as the European Union (EU), which accounts for 12 per cent of global emissions. So far, only three European states — France, Hungary and Austria — have passed domestic requirements for ratification but this itself does not constitute ratification.

E.U. STATES YET TO MAKE A MOVE

Currently, it is understood that EU member states will not submit their instruments of ratification until there is an agreement on effort-sharing within the bloc.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker this month expressed embarrassment at the slow progress.

A proposal for fast-track ratification was submitted in June for approval by the European Parliament and Council. Consent of the European Parliament is required prior to the adoption of the decision by the council.

Only when approved can the council designate a representative to deposit the ratification instrument to the UN Secretary-General, on behalf of the EU.

The major stumbling block here is that effort-sharing between the EU member states in order to achieve their 40 per cent emissions reduction by 2030, compared with 1990 levels target, has yet to be decided.

This process could take a couple of years. However, even an accelerated procedure would still be finished only as early as Oct 9 and late ratification would seriously put the EU’s reputation as a climate leader at risk.

Fortunately though, the remaining 7.5 per cent of emissions coverage needed to take the Paris Agreement over the threshold to entry could also come from major emitters such as the Russian Federation (which accounts for 5 per cent of global emissions), Indonesia (4.3 per cent), India (4.1 per cent), Japan (3.6 per cent), Canada (1.6 per cent), Australia (1.48 per cent) or South Korea (1.4 per cent).

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Sunday that India will ratify its agreement on Oct 2.

India is the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gas (counting the EU as a single bloc) and its move means it is almost certain the climate deal will come into force this year.

Japan has initiated its domestic process to ratify the agreement and its Parliament yesterday kicked off an extraordinary session where necessary documents may be submitted.

Canada is still in the midst of developing a national climate strategy on how the country is expected to meet its climate target before putting forward its instrument of ratification to the federal Cabinet.

Regardless of which countries make up the final tally, it will be a remarkable achievement should the Paris Agreement enter into force in 2016, given that it was adopted only 10 months ago.

In contrast, the agreement’s predecessor — the Kyoto Protocol — infamously took eight years to enter into force after being adopted in 1997.

At the time, the US had refused to ratify the protocol, saying that China and other major developing countries needed to play a role in addressing climate change as well.

If the threshold for entry for the Paris Agreement is crossed by Oct 7, then the first meeting of the parties to the agreement, known in the climate jargon as CMA, could take place during the upcoming annual United Nations climate conference (COP22), scheduled to start in Morocco on Nov 7, a day before the US Presidential Election.

Republican front-runner Mr Donald Trump has rubbished the science of climate change, resulting in uncertainty over whether America — the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases — will hold up its end of the bargain under a Trump administration.

U.S. WON’T BE ABLE TO BACK OUT

Legal expert Daniel Bodansky from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law points to a second important feature of early entry into force of the Paris Agreement.

If the agreement enters into force before current US President Barack Obama leaves office, then the next President would not be able to withdraw until sometime in 2019, and the withdrawal would not be effective until sometime in 2020.

Once the agreement is in force, it would be politically much more difficult for Mr Trump to back out of it.

Indeed, backing out of an international agreement that the US previously entered into could be an unwise move, given the US’ leadership role in tackling global challenges, as well as from a public relations standpoint.

It will also stymie the growth of the multibillion-dollar clean tech industry in the US. For businesses, the signal to go green is now clear. Private and public entities around the world are already moving to cut their greenhouse gas emissions.

Now that the Paris Agreement is on track to enter into force, the next important step would be for countries to work towards achieving the targets they have set.

After all, when 190 countries had put forward their climate pledges for 2030 — known as nationally determined contributions — they are domestically accountable as well.

Countries will need to continually ratchet up ambition according to science and pursue a low-carbon transition.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Melissa Low is Research Associate at the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore.

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