The Paris Climate Change Agreement Was Officially Activated Today

An ice cave in one of Iceland's many melting ice sheets. J. Helgason/Shutterstock

The UN recently announced that the groundbreaking Paris agreement would officially come into force on November 4. Now, that hallowed day – one that many thought would never arrive – has come.

“The Agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavor, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions, citizens, business and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change,” officials at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said in a statement.

“Its early entry into force is a clear political signal that all the nations of the world are devoted to decisive global action on climate change.”

After decades of work, the Paris agreement was forged and signed by 193 nations last December. To be activated, 55 countries representing 55 percent of global carbon emissions were required to formally have their own governments ratify their entry into the pact.

By this time last month, 74 countries representing 59 percent of emissions had joined up, including most of the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, and Indonesia. Today, 97 nations representing 69 percent of global emissions have entered the agreement.

 

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The agreement’s key test was whether or not the US and China – the world’s second-most and most prolific greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, respectively – would ratify the deal. Together, they represent 38 percent of the worlds GHGs. Without both of them signing up, other sizable nations would likely have held off.

Fortunately, back in September, both of them did. Major nations yet to ratify the agreement include Australia (1.5 percent of GHGs), the UK (1.6 percent), Japan (3.8 percent), and Russia (7.5 percent).

The ultimate aim of the pact is to phase out fossil fuels, and thus dramatically shrink the world’s carbon footprint. Although the greenhouse gas emission curbs pledged by each signatory nation is not legally binding, they do have to continually report on their progress as well as explain how they will up the ante of the pledges over time.

The agreement is explicitly designed to be strengthened over time, and it’s vital that it is. At present, if all signatories follow through on their promises, the 2°C (3.6°F) warming limit will be breached by 2050. It’s generally agreed that the only way to do this is an aggressive proliferation of renewable energy power plants and, to some extent, nuclear power.

Payments to poorer nations from wealthier nations are also part of the agreement. The Obama administration, for example, committed $3 billion of aid to developing countries in order to help them transition to clean energy infrastructures as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, it’s the wealthier, carbon-effusing nations that need to pull their weight the most, and the fact that so many have ratified the agreement so quickly is an incredibly promising sign.

Celebrations today are somewhat muted, however, as the prospect of a Trump presidency becomes ever more likely by the day, if the poll aggregates are anything to go by. China has already expressed its dismay over such a possibility.

The authoritarian, climate change-denying Republican nominee has repeatedly said that he would veto the Paris agreement as soon as he took office. Without the US, the pact would fall apart. In fact, under a two-term Trump administration, six Canadas-worth of GHGs would be pumped into the sky.

“In a short time – and certainly in the next 15 years – we need to see unprecedented reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and unequalled efforts to build societies that can resist rising climate impacts,” the UN emphasized.

The planet’s ability to do this rises or falls on the results of the US presidential election on November 8. America – the choice is yours.

View of the Arctic sea ice, as seen in 2009. United Nations Photo/Flickr; CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

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