Obama, Xi Push Early Entry Into Force of Paris Climate Deal

By Dean Scott

March 31 — A U.S.-China pledge to quickly sign and implement the Paris climate pact—and prod other countries to follow suit—could get the deal formally in force well before 2020, Obama administration officials said March 31.

President Barack Obama and China President Xi Jinping, meeting March 31 in Washington D.C., on the sidelines of a nuclear conference, announced the two top-emitting nations will sign the climate accord April 22 in New York and “take their respective domestic steps” at home to join the pact “as early as possible” in 2016.

The two nations “have agreed that we will not only sign the agreement on the first day possible, but we're committing to formally join it as soon as possible this year,” Obama said in remarks alongside Xi later in the day. “And we urge other countries to do the same.”

The move is meant to prod other nations to follow suit “and have it [the Paris Agreement] enter into force early and swiftly, by historic standards,” of past international agreements, Brian Deese, senior adviser to the president for climate and energy, told reporters on a press call before the announcement.

Obama and Xi also said in their declaration that they would work together and with other countries to adopt a Montreal Protocol amendment later this year to cut use and production of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)—used as a refrigerant—and push the International Civil Aviation Organization to set limits on carbon pollution emitted from airplanes ; .

The two leaders met on the margins of the Nuclear Security Summit, which brought dozens of world leaders to Washington, D.C.

Targeting HFCs, Air Sector Emissions

In the U.S.-China Joint Presidential Statement on Climate Change, the two leaders said they will work to speed up global negotiations to cut air sector carbon emissions and phase down use of HFCs, which are extremely potent but short-lived greenhouse gases.

The climate pact that nearly 200 nations agreed to last December is to enter into force no later than 2020. But the announcement by Obama and Xi may have “precisely the effect” of implementing it “significantly earlier,” perhaps even this year, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern told reporters.

At least 55 nations accounting for 55 percent of emissions must ratify or otherwise approve the climate accord, known as the Paris Agreement, for it to enter into effect .

The U.S. and China alone account for roughly 40 percent of global emissions, Stern noted.

“As soon as you hit that double threshold, the agreement is in force. It could actually happen this year—it could happen at any time you hit that 55 percent of emissions from 55 percent of countries,” Stern said.

“So the short answer is yes—it can make a great deal of difference” to have to world's two largest emitters move quickly to implement the deal domestically, the U.S. official said.

Obama negotiated the Paris deal using his executive authority, an approach opposed by most congressional Republicans, who argue that any global agreement of that magnitude should have to be ratified by the Senate.

Multiyear Process

The ratification process for the Paris climate pact formally begins in April 2017, one year after the United Nations April 22 signing ceremony is held at its New York headquarters.

The U.S. plans to have Secretary of State John Kerry on hand to sign the agreement. Stern is departing as Obama's top climate envoy as of April 1 but his successor, former Energy Department official Jonathan Pershing, is slated to attend .

Environmental groups March 31 hailed the joint announcement, saying it is only the latest example of leadership by the U.S. and China on the climate issue. Nat Keohane, vice president of global climate for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the joint commitment to address air sector carbon pollution was particularly welcome.

“A strong agreement at the 2016 International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly is one of the top global priorities for climate change this year—and a key part of President Obama's legacy” on climate action, Keohane said in a press statement. The ICAO meeting is to be held this fall in Montreal.

This week's meeting between Obama and Xi was the eighth between the two leaders since 2013, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters March 30.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com