The Triumph of COP 21

With the European Union’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on October 5, the document reflecting worldwide effort on climate change will be legally binding next month.

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

Siyuan Ma, C+S ’16

With the European Union’s ratification of the Paris Agreement on October 5, the document reflecting worldwide effort on climate change will be legally binding next month.

The news is encouraging for other ongoing efforts to combat climate change because it reveals the determination of governments to address the world’s most pressing problem. Meanwhile, people who are most vulnerable to global warming and sea level rise can see the light of hope.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Chinese president Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, and U.S. president Barack Obama at a special Paris Agreement ceremony. Credit: U.N. Photo

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Chinese president Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, and U.S. President Barack Obama at a special Paris Agreement ceremony. Credit: U.N. Photo

“This is a momentous occasion,” said Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General. “What once seemed unthinkable, is now unstoppable. Strong international support for the Paris Agreement entering into force is a testament to the urgency for action, and reflects the consensus of governments that robust global cooperation, grounded in national action, is essential to meet the climate challenge.”

According to Article 21.1 in Paris Agreement, to make the climate deal effective requires at least 55 parties representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions to ratify it under domestic legislative procedure (also known as the double 55 threshold). Once that happens, the agreement will be legally binding within international law structure 30 days later.

The speed of Paris Agreement’s entry into force is beyond most people’s imagination. Before September 2016, observers estimated that the “Paris deal likely to take effect before the end of 2017.” However, after China and the U.S. — the world’s top two economies representing nearly 40 percent of global carbon emissions — jointly ratified the Paris Agreement at the G20 Summit, it became more likely to go into effect by the end of 2016.

Before G20, there was 23 parties, collectively representing about 1 percent of global carbon emissions, ratified the agreement. After the China and U.S joint ratification, major emitters felt peer pressure and accelerated their national procedures. As a result, 76 nations account for 60 percent of global emissions ratified Paris Agreement as of mid-October. That includes major economies like India, Brazil and Canada in addition to China, the U.S. and European Union.

What does the agreement’s entry into effective status mean? First of all, its governing body, the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA), will also begin convening. Paris Agreement’s CMA 1 will occur during international climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco next month. Meanwhile, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) — the commitment promises submitted at the Paris talks — will transform into Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

While it’s hopeful to note the ratification of the Paris Agreement, it should be noted that implementation is still lagging behind. How can the high-level political commitment to climate change translate to actions at the national level? What should we do to keep the momentum? How can technologies be best developed and funds be most mobilized to support the combat against climate change?

These unanswered questions lay ahead of us and could be the barriers between us and that greener world. But since we have the words and agreements to change current situation, that means it’s time to confront these questions and move from words to actions.

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