What Happens If Paris Climate Deal Enters Into Force This Year?

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By Eric J. Lyman

Sept. 8 — The Paris Agreement appears to be on pace to become international law no later than early 2017 and possibly as soon as this November, in time for the United Nations' next climate summit.

China and the U.S., the world's two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, Sept. 3 formally joined what will become the world's first global climate change agreement.

As of Sept. 7, when Laos ratified the deal, the Paris Agreement had been ratified or otherwise officially accepted by 27 countries representing 39.1 percent of worldwide emissions, the vast majority of that from China and the U.S.

But at least 30 additional countries—including Brazil, Japan and New Zealand—have vowed to approve the deal by the end of the year. If so, those who have accepted the agreement would account for 59.9 percent of worldwide emissions, according to the Berlin watchdog group Climate Analytics.

To take effect, the agreement requires approval from at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of worldwide emissions. It would officially enter into force 30 days after that benchmark is reached.

The Paris Agreement calls on the world community to take the steps necessary to arrest global temperature increases. Its goal is to keep warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above where Earth's temperatures averaged before the industrial revolution.

But almost all the obligations in the deal don't start until 2020, and that will not change with early ratification. So why is it significant if the agreement enters into force well ahead of that date?

‘Symbolic … in a Very Important Way.'

“The biggest impact of an early entry into force is probably symbolic, but in a very important way,” Duncan Marsh, international climate policy director for the Nature Conservancy, told Bloomberg BNA. “It carries forward momentum from Paris, and it sends a signal to the businesses that this is the time to invest in clean energy.”

The U.S. approval of the deal on Sept. 3 also helps avoid a situation where the world’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter remains on the sidelines, as was the case with the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, has said he planned to renegotiate the Paris Agreement if he wins on Nov. 8, but UN legal experts told Bloomberg BNA that because the Paris text will become international law once the 55-55 threshold is reached, it would become far more complicated for the U.S. to pull out.

And when the U.S. deposited its instruments of acceptance with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), that added another complication, since withdrawal would require negating those instruments.

Another major factor, according to a key nongovernmental observer who asked not to be identified by name, is the 2018 “facilitative dialogue” created in paragraph 20 of the Paris Agreement could become more significant.

2018 ‘Big Stage Moment.'

“Right now, the first full formal stocktaking is due to take place in 2023, which most people agree is too late, given that current pledges need to be strengthened,” the observer said. “But if the Paris Agreement has entered into force by 2018, as seems assured, the odds that the 2018 dialogue turns into a big stage moment go way up.”

But Kate Dooley, a veteran climate campaigner and a researcher at the University of Melbourne, said she worried the rush to have the treaty enter into force could pressure certain shortcuts on yet-to-be-negotiated areas including transparency, the role of markets, rules on land use and other areas that are jointly referred to as the Paris Agreement rule book.

“Early entry is a great signal,” Dooley said in an interview. “But it cannot mean negotiations are pressured to accept shortcuts in these key areas that were not finalized in Paris.”

Mixed Benefits

And even if Climate Analytics' claim does bear fruit, it still means 123 of the 180 countries that signed off on the Paris Agreement last year—including the 28 members of the European Union, plus India, Indonesia, the Russian Federation, almost all of Africa and the Middle East, and much of Latin America—will not yet have approved the deal when it enters into force.

The UNFCCC sequel to the Paris climate talks is scheduled for Nov. 7-18 in Marrakech, Morocco.

Earlier this year, Hakima El-Haite, Morocco's minister of environment, and French climate envoy Laurence Tubiana issued a “reflections note,” saying all countries, whether they approved the deal or not, would have an equal voice in Morocco and beyond.

“No party should be disadvantaged or excluded from the collective development of the rule book for the Paris Agreement simply because it is in the process of joining the agreement,” they said in the note.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric J. Lyman in Rome at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

For More Information

The updated status of ratification for the Paris Agreement is available at http://src.bna.com/inv .

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