Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), which led to the signing of the Paris Agreement (Photo: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/Creative Commons)
Major carbon emitters have finally ratified the Paris Climate Agreement, the pledge of the century aimed at keeping the world from warming to unlivable levels. The Agreement was anticipated for years, with various Conferences of Parties, finally culminating December of last year in France. Earlier this month, the US and China jointly agreed to ratify ahead of the G20 summit that took place in Hangzhou, China, on September 4. Brazil, South America’s largest carbon emitter, later followed suit.
The UK is being pushed to ratify as well, although Brexit has thrown a wrench in the plan, as conservatives took over power following Prime Minister, David Cameron’s resignation. There has been a delay in revealing their long-awaited low carbon plan after the Chancellor of the Exchequer sharply cut subsidies to the clean energy sector. No timeline was given on ratification, even as Lib Dems, SNP, and Greens push for immediate action on the matter. Conservatives seem to be in no hurry to ratify. European nations have been known to impose strict regulations on carbon emissions, yet the only European nation to have ratified thus far is Norway, which did so on June 20 of this year.
The US and China have often dragged their feet on the matter, not wanting to disturb business by having to impose stricter regulations. Because of this, their ratification sent a powerful global message. Brazil, amid turmoil after the impeachment of Dilma Roussef, and mixed reviews following the Rio Olympics, ratified the agreement to show other nations that they are still committed to a greener future. The nation pledged to cutting emissions 37% by 2025 as well as an “intended reduction” of 43% by 2030.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website, “As of 7 September 2016, there are 180 signatories to the Paris Agreement. Of these, 27 States have also deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval accounting in total for 39.08% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.” Brazil, accounting for 2.48% of emissions, signed after this date, meaning that accounting for all ratifying countries puts the goal above 40%.
Ratification by major emitters is a key step because unless 55 countries representing 55% of the world’s carbon emissions sign on, the pact does not come into force. If Russia, Japan, and India ratified, the 55% emissions mark would be reached and as long as 24 other nations with any amount of emissions ratified, the Agreement would go into full force.
Many small island nations ratified the same day that they signed the Agreement, April 22, 2016 – Earth Day. These include: The Maldives, Marshall Islands, Grenada, Fiji, Barbados, and the Bahamas, but their collective emissions are so low that it barely made a dent in getting closer to the 55% goal. Still, it showed strong and necessary commitment, as they are at far greater risk from the effects of climate change than larger emitters.
According to the data provided by the UNFCCC, not all countries emissions data was collected during the same year, and some may be outdated by this time. Libya, Brunei, and Equatorial Guinea have no data to speak of. The UNFCCC is doing its best to update information and encourage nations to ratify, but UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, recently stated his disappointment in world leaders for putting politics above all else, at the expense of common people. It is the Secretary’s last year after a decade in the position, and he told the AP that the suffering and turmoil of the world can be blamed on leaders, not the people; that they are focused on getting elected by any means necessary, and do not listen to the voices of their citizens. He said that he got more done in personal conversations with leaders when it came to major issues like climate change and warfare, stating, “I can issue a hundred statements from here, but if you really want to get that apple dropped, you have to go and shake the apple tree.”
In the spirit of cooperation and a display of commitment, the world expects the heaviest emitters to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement and allow it to go into force by the end of this year. The Secretary-General has invited leaders to submit their ratification letters on September 21. If this is done, Ban Ki-moon can leave office knowing that he wielded great influence in keeping the world on track for a low carbon future.
Sarah Sakeena Marshall, B.S. Environmental Policy