Landmark Paris climate deal sees some progress this September

BY EMMA RUBIN '20

In celebration of Earth Day, April 22, the Paris Agreement opened for signing. The Paris Agreement is a proposal under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that calls to decrease greenhouse gas emissions so that global average temperature is less than 2°C (ideally 1.5°C) above pre-industrial temperatures. The plan also calls for the UNFCC to reconvene in 2020, and every five years after that, to continue to develop plans to curb climate change. A long-term goal of the agreement is to reach net-zero emissions “in the second half of this century,” as stated by the World Resources Institute.

Since that day, the document has generated signatories from the 189 countries who produce almost 99 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the official website of the UNFCC. However, only 60 of these countries, accounting for close to 48 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, have ratified the resolution. 

Two of the most notable signatories so far are the United States and China, together responsible for about 38 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Their joint approval of the plan on Sept. 3 played a major role in influencing other nations to approve it. However, there are still other countries with significant greenhouse gas emissions that have yet to ratify the agreement.

A total of 14 other countries, including Canada, India, Australia and the United Kingdom, have also expressed their hope to pass the agreement shortly. If this occurs, the agreement would meet both thresholds and be fully initiated. However, as Brexit has not yet gone into effect, the UK is still a part of the European Union and in the context of the Paris Agreement, the EU is expected to join with all member states. The European Parliament must also give consent before the 28 member states can join the agreement, according to Newsroom.

Several EU members have ratified the deal, but must wait for the other members before the next step. Miguel Arias Canete, EU Climate Commissioner, said to the Associated Press: “We are trying to accelerate the ratification process.” The EU makes up for about 12 percent of carbon emissions and approval would allow the plan to meet its requisites.

After the agreement is ratified by 60 countries, the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, according to the United Nations website, “It will mark a new era of global cooperation in building a safer, more resilient and prosperous world.” He also remarked, “When this year ends, I hope we can all look back with pride, knowing that, together, we seized the opportunity to act for the common good, for a sustainable future and the protection of our common home.”

There have been some critics of the plan. Many focus on the lack of repercussions for countries that fail to comply and the absence of clear guidelines to ensure emissions are being reduced. Countries are not legally bound to meet specific targets, but are bound to actively engage in mitigation efforts. Nations are expected to peak their emission levels as soon as possible, but it would be up to them how they do so. This is a cause for concern for those who believe the goals will not be achieved without strict guidelines to follow. 

The Paris Agreement is a product of 24 years of work on the part of the UNFCC. However, this is not the first plan that UNFCC has produced that attempts to curb carbon emissions. One notable plan is the Kyoto Protocol.Although this protocol was adopted in December 1997, it did not go into effect until February 2005. The intent of the treaty was to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. All countries had individual benchmarks to reach this average, with developing countries being given significantly more leeway than developed nations.

The plan ultimately failed because countries like China and India, both significant contributors to emissions, were considered developing countries and did not have to reduce their emissions immediately. Additionally, the U.S. and Australia never ratified the deal, further preventing any major global greenhouse gas reduction.

The Paris Agreement recognizes that it will take longer for developing countries to control their emissions, but these nations are still expected to work towards the goal immediately. Additionally, the document states that support will be provided to developing states. The UNFCC has made other attempts to mitigate emissions globally, but none were as well received as those of Kyoto and Paris.

The UNFCC hopes to reach the necessary thresholds of the Paris Agreement by the 22nd Conference of Parties and 12th Meeting of Parties of the Kyoto Protocol in Marrakech, Morocco in November of this year. The previous COP was where the Paris Agreement was first adopted. Despite the presence of the document and the global cooperation occurring now, convening parties are still planning for a productive conference.

The UNFCC states on their website that at the COP this year, “Nations of the world will continue their work on strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, with the central focus placed on enhancing ambition, promoting implementation and providing support.”

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