More Than 160 Nations UN-Bound for Signing of Climate Pact

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By Dean Scott and Eric J. Lyman

April 19 — Four months after nearly 200 nations finally reached an historic deal in Paris to address climate change, more than 160 of them will send representatives April 22 to sign it in New York, in hopes of getting the deal entered into force well before 2020.

United Nations and world leaders are touting the likely historic nature of the April 22 ceremony—they expect to set a record for the number of leaders signing an international agreement on a single day—with a total of 162 nations planning to send representatives to UN headquarters, the UN said April 19. They include the U.S., Japan, Australia, Canada, and European nations but also developing countries, including India, Mexico, Brazil and Indonesia.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the record gathering, drawing more than 60 heads of state, including French President Francois Hollande, will underscore world commitment to implement the climate accord. He said it would outstrip the previous record of 119 nations that traveled to Jamaica more than 30 years ago to sign the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“People say a [world] record exists to be broken,” Ban said April 15 at a World Bank forum. “Well, this time we are going to break [that] record.”“

Some may ask about the importance of a signing ceremony, Ban said. But he acknowledged that the outpouring of support will remove any doubts that a global effort to address climate change is underway.

One-Year Process Underway

Italian Minister of Environment Gian Luca Galletti, who will accompany Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to the one-day ceremony, called the event “the end of the beginning for the Paris Agreement process.”

“It's an important milestone, but also a promise,” Ban said, for the work needed “to make its terms count.”

After the April 22 morning signing ceremony, heads of state and other national representatives are to give remarks throughout the day. Beyond the pomp and circumstance, the fact that so many countries are to arrive to sign the deal on April 22 may have little impact on implementing the Paris Agreement—those countries that don't show up technically still have up to a year after that day to sign on.

Also on the agenda for the weekend are a climate finance ministerial hosted by the U.S. on April 23 and an April 24 meeting of the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. The MEF forum brings together climate negotiators from the 16 top-emitting nations as well as the European Union.

A Lull Seen in Climate Action

The ceremony in New York will be held against a backdrop of nagging concern that countries are entering a lull in climate action, losing momentum after reaching the international agreement in Paris. World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim warned last week against countries essentially resting on their laurels now that a deal has been reached (73 DEN A-9, 4/15/16).

To some degree, the Earth Day signing ceremony, held on the first day the agreement is open for signature, is a sort of opening day for a yearlong process in which nations have to sign the climate accord reached in December. The Paris Agreement—reached after more than 20 years of on-again, off-again progress in UN climate talks—for the first time committed developed and developing nations alike to address rising greenhouse gas emissions.

One or Two-Year Process Ahead

What will unfold after April 22 is a likely one-to-two year process of ratification or other domestic approval by nearly 200 nations, after which it would enter into force, although the terms of the agreement won't apply until 2020.

Given the time it will take for individual countries to ratify the agreement, the earliest it could likely enter into force is a year or two early—most likely 2018 or 2019.

The Paris Agreement would only enter into force if 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions ratify it, or—as in the case of the U.S.—approve it using executive authority (20 DEN A-3, 2/1/16).

There is little expectation countries will fall short on hitting that threshold, given the U.S., China and the European Union—responsible for roughly half of global emissions—are expected to implement the deal.

But according to the World Resources Institute, at least one of the big emitters—the U.S., China, the EU or India—must sign on and ratify the deal to ensure nations can hit the minimum threshold of covering 55 percent of global emissions.

Push Expected for Quick Implementation

President Barack Obama isn't scheduled to attend the signing ceremony; rather, Secretary of State John Kerry is instead to arrive to sign the Paris accord for the U.S., a State Department spokesman said April 19, adding that no other U.S. Cabinet officials are slated to attend.

According to the UN, only heads of state, heads of government and foreign affairs ministers are generally “empowered” to sign such international agreements.

Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping jointly vowed in March to join the pact “as soon as possible this year” and urged other nations to follow suit to get on with the work needed to fulfill the accord's pledge of putting a brake on rising global temperatures (63 DEN A-5, 4/1/16).

The UN is holding a day of activities in and around the UN to bracket the signing of the climate deal, with Ban hoping to highlight the need for rapid action in the years ahead if the world is to put the brakes on rising global temperatures.

At the core of the Paris deal is a pledge to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since preindustrial times and “pursue” efforts to keep warming to within 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

Negotiators in Paris also formalized a pledge by developed nations to ratchet up climate finance to developing nations to $100 billion-a-year by 2020—from combined public and private sources—and possibly increase it in the years beyond.

Gore to Give Remarks

Others participating in events beyond the morning signing ceremony besides Ban include Xie Zhenhua, China's special representative on climate change; the outgoing head of the UN climate secretariat, Christiana Figueres, who is stepping down in July; former Vice President Al Gore, now chairman of Generation Investment Management and the Climate Reality Project; and Liu Zhenya, who chairs China's State Grid Corp.

The day's events also include a luncheon in the afternoon termed a High-Level Signature Ceremony of Paris Agreement, with Juan Manuel Santos, president of Colombia, and Hollande, the French president. Gore will give keynote remarks at the luncheon.

Others attending various events are Segolene Royal, the French environment and energy minister who is coordinating the post-Paris negotiations as president of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the parent treaty to the deal reached in Paris; Li Se Kengo, executive director of the UN Global Compact; California Gov. Jerry Brown (D); and Frank Bainimarama, the prime minister of Fiji.

Nations are to resume talks on implementing verification requirements and other issues at negotiations in Bonn, Germany, May 16-26, and high-level UN talks (COP-22) scheduled for Nov. 7-18 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com and 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

Details of the UN signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement April 22 are available at http://src.bna.com/efF.

Additional details are available at http://src.bna.com/efC.

A list of the 162 nations signaling their intention to sign the Paris Agreement is available at http://src.bna.com/efE.