Paris Agreement takes effect; American presidential winner casts shadow over international effort to fight climate change

The Paris Agreement on climate change took effect on Nov. 4, days before American voters elected as their President a candidate who has promised to abandon the nation’s commitment to fighting climate change.

According to a press release issued by the United Nations on Nov. 5, the accord has become operative faster than any other recent international agreement.

“The speed at which countries have made the Paris’s Agreement’s entry into force possible is unprecedented in recent experience of international agreements and is a powerful confirmation of the importance nations attach to combating climate change and realizing the multitude of opportunities inherent in the Paris Agreement,” Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.

The agreement, which was reached last December, could not begin to bind the nations that developed it until thirty days from the date on which the number of countries to ratify it reached 55 and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions accounted for by the ratifying countries reached 55 percent of the worldwide total.

unfccc-22-nov-2016
Nations that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting this month in Morocco.

Parties to the UNFCCC are now gathered for their 22nd annual meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco to establish a governing body that will oversee implementation of the Paris Agreement and rules to guide nations in their compliance with it.

The Paris Agreement does not limit national greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it requires signatory nations to specify Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. INDCs are used to detail each country’s effort to limit the atmospheric temperature increase caused by human activities to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Nations that do not meet their INDC obligation are not penalized.

Since the accord took effect, uncertainty about its future has increased around the world in the aftermath of the U.S. election. Although he did not win the majority of votes cast by Americans, New York real estate developer and reality TV star Donald J. Trump will become the nation’s chief executive because he carried a majority of the state-based votes that will be cast in the country’s archaic Electoral College.

Trump defeated former secretary of state and senator Hillary Clinton, along with a slew of minor party candidates including Libertarian former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, to capture the presidency.

Trump’s comments during the long political campaign leading up to the election indicated that the United States may abandon the Paris Agreement. Trump said in May that he would “cancel” the American commitment to it.

Earlier statements by the Republican businessman, who has no political experience, also indicate that there is a risk that the country which emits the most greenhouse gases might quit the effort to limit them. Trump has said, for example, that he believes climate change is a “hoax” developed and encouraged by China.

Since his election on Nov. 8 Trump has made no public comments about his plans for continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. However, he has chosen a well-known climate science denier, Myron Ebell of the libertarian advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute, to manage the transition of personnel and policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump has also indicated that he is considering several oil executives and at least one politician who is adamantly in favor of increasing American fossil fuel production to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates energy exploration and extraction on public lands and on the continental shelf.

The United States cannot formally leave the Paris Agreement for four years, according to its terms. However, Trump has a number of options for limiting or preventing its impact on the country’s fossil fuel extraction and use. He could, for example, re-characterize the deal as a treaty and submit it to the U.S. Senate, controlled by Republicans, for ratification. Ratification would be unlikely. Trump could, if he desired to land a stronger blow against international climate change diplomacy, pull the United States out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He could also simply ignore the INDCs agreed to by the administration of President Barack Obama, a path that would result in little tangible consequence for the U.S. other than international condemnation.

A Reuters report published Saturday indicates that Trump has not backed down from his stated desire to abandon the Paris Agreement. The article, citing anonymous sources close to the president-elect, said that Trump will move quickly to terminate any American commitment to international climate change policy and programs.

Other nations have continued to act in support of the Paris Agreement since its Nov. 4 effective date.

Australia announced Thursday that it had ratified the accord, joining 108 other nations that have done so.

The country’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said at a press conference that Australia expects to meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2030.

“Almost a year from the Paris Conference, it is clear the agreement was a watershed, a turning point,” he said. “The adoption of a comprehensive strategy has galvanised the international community and spurred on global action.”

“As you know, we are playing our part with ambitious targets. We are on track to meet and indeed beat our 2020 targets. We will review our climate and energy policies next year to ensure that we meet, as we believe we will and are committed to do, to meet our 2030 targets under the agreement.”

Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Italy ratified the Paris Agreement on Nov. 11, Pakistan ratified it on Nov. 10, Japan on Nov. 8, and Gambia on Nov. 7.

Those national decisions followed a string of other ratifications earlier in November: Denmark, Estonia, Gabon, Ireland, Jordan,  Luxembourg, South Korea, Sao Tome and Princepe, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Vietnam all adopted it during the first week of the month.

Eighty-eight countries that are parties to the December 2015 agreement have not yet decided whether to formally adopt it.

 

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