Very soon we will find out the truth. No, I’m not talking about whether John Snow comes back in season 6 of Games of Thrones or not. I’m thinking about the Paris Agreement and if it will become reality any time soon.
If you’ve not been living under a rock the last year, I don’t have to remind you the historical day of December 12th 2015. For the first time in human history, all 195 countries in the Conference of Parties (COP) adopted a globally binding climate agreement.
In the months after, I’ve heard a cacophony of opinions on the agreement. One calls the Paris climate conference one large play with a very disappointment conclusion, the other a big victory for mankind. I invite you to (re-) read my reflections on COP21 –I didn’t change my mind in the meantime.
That being said, you might be wondering if the agreement has died a silent death. Not at all. But before the Paris Agreement can kick into action, we have to get trough a whole procedure of signing and ratifying. Bear with me.
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step
You know, the cheering politicians you might have seen on TV back in December 2015 didn’t put their signature on any paper yet. They adopted the agreement, which is the formal act that establishes the form and content of the paper. But adoption is only the beginning of a long and tortuous U.N. process for the deal enter into force.
All 195 countries are now invited by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to sign the agreement in the headquarters of the UN in New York. On the 22nd of April, an official signing ceremony will be held and more than 100 heads of state and government officials are expected.
“It is not correct to think we are going to deal with climate change tomorrow. We have to deal with it today.” –Christiana Figueres
But don’t think we’re done already. Signing the agreement is only a first step towards the Paris Agreement taking force. A countries’ signature only initiates the critical domestic process to indicate their consent to join and be bound by it as Parties. Depending on the country the national parliament, senate or president should officially approve to join the agreement. For example, in Australia approval by parliament is sufficient, while in the United States it is based on presidential authority.
Once all the formal processes have been dealt with, a country has to come back and deposit a proposal with its instrument of ratification, acceptance and approval. Difficult UN terminology to say they have to hand in a paper confirming they went trough the whole rigmarole of domestic approval procedures.
Another step? Oooh yes. Because the Paris Agreement is only ratified when at least 55% of all Parties of the UNFCCC, representing at least 55% of the total gobal greenhouse gases, are officially teamed up. Only then the deal becomes legally binding and comes into force (to be precise, on the 30th day after the threshold is reached) . Welcome in the lovely world of U.N. legislation! From that point on, the real work can begin. Regular meetings will be held to start implementing the text that took 21 COPs to be written.
Will we get there?
Congratulations, you’re still around! You are probably wondering how likely it is that we are going to reach this 55% conditions. Today we can guess, tomorrow we will be able to make a first balance. In theory, countries have one year time to sign the agreement, although it is expected and encouraged to sign it during the official ceremony on April 22. We know politicians like good news shows, so I’m quite confident many will use the occasion to assure their voters how good they are doing. The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) announced that over 130 countries confirmed their attendance.
That being said, the World Resources Institute has built a Paris Agreement Tracker that was revealed last week. The public is free to explore the INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) of all countries, who already signed up and who didn’t. A progress bar keeps track of how far away we are from the 55% thresholds. You can play around with it over here.
For someone like me who loves this kind of graphs and maps, it is pure joy to try out the different combinations of countries we need to reach the threshold. For those who do not share that enthusiasm (I don’t blame anyone), I summarized some observations below. You’re welcome.
We need at least one from the top four emitters
Yes, without one of the top four emitters –being China, the US, EU or Russia– joining the Agreement, we are simply not going to make it. Luckily for us, China and the US have already promised earlier this month that they will attend the signing ceremony. The ratification back home might take a while though. The EU in particular is not expected to be quick in their internal ratification procedure, since the agreement has to be approved by all member states’ parliaments before the European Parliament can approve.
The top four emitters account for 57.58% of worlds greenhouse gas emissions and thus reach the 55% threshold. But they do not reach the minimum number of parties in the agreement of course.
Small island states are crucial
Even though they barely make up for 0.57% of the world wide emissions, those 40 progressive states are important to reach the threshold of 55 participating Parties.
Also other developing countries may play a key role. For example, if the so-called Climate Vulnerable Forum consisting of countries like Guatemala, Congo, Sudan and Indonesia team up with the 4 largest emitters, we are already there.
Time is running out
The quicker all the national procedures can be dealt with, the better. Many developing countries want to move forward as fast as possible to the ratification to lock in the United States before a new president comes into office. Both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz –who are still payed enough by the oil lobby to cry out that climate change is not man-made– would certainly not approve to join the Paris Agreement. Stepping out of the Agreement in case it is already approved and ratified during the Obama administration would be way harder (and make America look dumb again, dear Donald Trump).
How long will it then take before the Agreement reaches the treshold, taking into account the domestic approval procedures? Executive secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres believes we can have it up and running in 2018. And it will not be a minute too early.
“We are two minutes to midnight on climate change. If you ask me, the Paris agreement is 10 years too late”
Let us not forget the severity of the situation. Climate change is happening right now and if we want to have at least a decent chance to get trough it, we need everyone on board. And not in 2020, but right now. Emissions don’t need to be stabilised. They need to decrease. A lot. As Figueres pointed out herself, it will need a massive investment of a scale not seen since the rebuilding after World War II. As writer and journalist Naomi Klein put it so well: we need a Marshall Plan for the World. Tomorrow is the second step of a long road, but at least, the journey has finally started.