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By Dean Scott
April 25 — The United Nations got an even bigger-than-expected turnout on Earth Day when 175 nations signed the Paris climate pact April 22, but one surprising development was the rush of pledges by countries to ratify the deal in 2016—nearly enough to get it into effect by year's end, the top U.S. climate negotiator said in an interview with Bloomberg BNA.
Jonathan Pershing, who in April took the reins for U.S. negotiations in the wake of Todd Stern's departure as President Barack Obama’s top climate negotiator, said it is now “very, very possible” that at least 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions will ratify or otherwise formally join the pact by the end of 2016. That is the formal threshold that must be met for the Paris Agreement to enter into force.
“I could actually imagine that—this year,” he said.
Pershing, who spoke with Bloomberg BNA after the conclusion of the April 22 UN signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement, said it is even conceivable that the deal could enter into force without the European Union. The EU is expected to ratify the agreement but isn't expected to do so until 2017.
The U.S. negotiator said he did not anticipate much backsliding from countries when talks resume later this year to implement the Paris deal. He also said the surprise announcement by China at the UN at the signing that it will take domestic action to join the accord before September—a pledge that nearly overshadowed the record-setting number of countries on hand to sign it at the ceremony—was a “tremendous” development that could spur other nations to move quickly.
China's Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said his country “will make early accession” and implement the deal at home before it hosts the next meeting of the Group of 20 leading economies in the city of Hangzhou, Zhejiang.
Pershing added that it is “certainly a possibility” that the U.S. and China could coordinate their actions to implement the deal, given the spate of joint U.S.-China climate announcements in recent years. In March, President Barack Obama and China's President Xi Jinping vowed to “take their respective domestic steps” to formally join the climate deal this year ( (62 ECR, 3/31/16).
“We are looking at our own timing,” as well as the prospect of coordinating between “other players” besides China, Pershing said. “Certainly that is an option” to coordinate the U.S. and China actions going forward, he said, but added there has been “no decision” on any joint announcements.
The climate pact that nearly 200 nations reached in Paris last December was the first under which developed and developing nations alike agreed to actions to address global climate change. The April 22 signing ceremony kicked off a yearlong period that nations have to sign the deal, after which countries are to individually ratify or otherwise join the agreement.
Countries are now vying to get it entered into force well before their original 2020 target date, which would mean earlier progress on rules and guidelines to implement the Paris Agreement; the terms of pact still won't apply until 2020.
Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Paris pact on behalf of the U.S. at the April 22 ceremony and reiterated a U.S. pledge to implement the deal domestically this year. President Barack Obama negotiated the climate accord using his executive authority, in part to avoid submitting it for ratification to the Republican-led Senate, where it would likely be dead-on-arrival.
The April 22 UN ceremony drew pledges from some of the world's largest emitters to quickly ratify or otherwise formally join the agreement this year. That group included the U.S. and China—which today account for 38 percent of global emissions—as well as Australia, Argentina, Cameroon, Canada, France, Mali, Mexico and the Philippines.
Others, including Brazil, the European Union, and Russia, pledged at the UN ceremony that they would work toward swift implementation.
Another 15 nations, all of them relatively small emitters such as Barbados, Belize, Fiji and the island states of Maldives, Nauru and Saint Lucia, were the earliest adopters of any nation; they have ratified the Paris Agreement and formally deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN at the signing ceremony.
The Paris pact would enter into force if ratified by 55 nations accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions. Just the three largest parties—the U.S., China, and the EU—account for nearly 50 percent of global emissions.
But Pershing said it is conceivable that the deal could enter into force well before the EU finishes its ratification process next year.
Given the pledges of swift action by so many countries at the April 22 signing, “you could get there without the EU, depending on who else comes in” and ratifies the pact in the months ahead, Pershing said.
“The U.S. and China by themselves are just shy of 40” percent of global emissions, Pershing said, and countries by the end of the one-day UN event “that have made commitments for this year bring you up to just shy of 50” percent.
That raises the possibility of meeting the threshold requirement of 55 nations comprising 55 percent of emissions by year's end, he said.
“I could actually imagine that—this year,” Pershing said, adding that he saw hopeful signs from India and Brazil following remarks by India's minister of environment and Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff to the UN at the April 22 event. But neither of them offered precise timetables for when their countries will complete their ratification processes.
Pershing said he found it “very interesting” that Brazil's president made the trip; he added that Rousseff “made it quite clear” her country is moving forward to implement the Paris pact at home. In remarks to the UN, she pledged Brazil's commitment “to ensuring the prompt entry into force of the Paris Agreement.”
“Those are big players, right?” Pershing said, referring to India and Brazil. “Between the two of them, that gets you from where you are, say around 50 percent, to pretty close to being over 55 percent,” he said. “The sheer numbers” of countries that made similar pledges of early ratification at the UN Friday “puts you in a very different place than you might have thought,” only months ago, Pershing said.
Rousseff made the trip even as she is battling an impeachment effort at home. That impeachment effort, if successful, could jeopardize any swift move in Brazil to ratify the climate agreement.
Pershing, who is a familiar face among climate negotiators at UN negotiations—he served for years as Stern's deputy through the 2012 UN climate negotiations in Qatar—also said he does not expect much backsliding from countries when they resume high-level talks in November to implement the Paris deal. Negotiators at those talks in Marrakesh, Morocco, hope to flesh out transparency procedures needed to determine whether the actions nations pledged to address their emissions under the Paris accord are being taken.
In addition, Pershing said he does not expect India, the world's third-largest emitting nations, to resist being bound by mandatory transparency and verification requirements agreed to under the Paris pact. It is unclear whether the nation considers itself technologically ready to comply with the pact's detailed transparency requirements.
Under the Paris deal, developed countries such as the U.S.—but also many rapidly developing nations such as China and, possibly, Brazil—will presumably have to prepare detailed progress reports every two years. The language in the agreement did not specify which nations are subject to the transparency requirements, but it essentially did provide an exemption for small island nations and poor developing countries to skip submitting such reports.
“You know, I don’t want to be naively optimistic and say” there is no chance of any nation backsliding on the agreement in Morocco, Pershing said.
But, he said, “I think that there will be an enormous amount of pressure should India seek to move away from that agreement, [and] a lot of pressure on them” to participate in any transparency and reporting requirements going forward.
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