China, U.S. to Sign Historic Climate Agreement on Friday

COP21, India, China, Obama, climate change, United Nations, Leon Kaye, New York
History will be made at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday.

The Paris climate agreement has been described as one of the greatest diplomatic efforts of the past 30 years. But the road to the historic December 2015 conference, and the road following, have not been easy.

China, the world’s manufacturing powerhouse and its largest carbon emitter, was accused by many of trying to weaken the accords reached between 196 countries in Paris. Meanwhile, many politicians here in the U.S. have either dismissed or attacked the framework behind the Paris climate deal.

But despite the heated rhetoric, the commitment to COP21 is still lumbering along. One of the biggest steps post-Paris will happen this Friday, April 22, at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York, where representatives from both China and the U.S. will sign the agreement, along with as many as 155 other countries, at an official ceremony.

Late last month, U.S. President Barack Obama and China’s president Xi Jinping announced they would join an approximate 120 countries in New York for the signing ceremony. For many diplomats, NGO heads and business leaders, New York’s event will bring a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, much work needs to be done, as the Paris climate deal needs 55 nations that together comprise 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions to ratify the agreement before it can become enforceable.

Considering the polarization in Congress, it will be a tall order for the ratification of the COP21 agreement to get past the Senate. The Paris agreement, however, shows that President Obama is one of the boldest lame duck American presidents to date. Whatever one thinks about Obama, if Franklin Roosevelt’s first 100 days set the standard for how the first three months of a presidential administration are judged, then the 44th president’s final 24 months have set the bar high for how future heads of state will sunset into history.

Meanwhile most of the candidates vying to succeed Obama have, at the most, taken a dubious stance on climate-related issues. Ted Cruz’s career was built more on tackling Americans’ behavior in the bedrooms; Donald Trump has argued that cold weather in itself refutes any theory of climate change; and Hillary Clinton has been accused of leading from behind on this issue, especially when it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Only Bernie Sanders has spoken boldly about boosting investment in clean-energy technologies to stem the risks from climate change, and the Vermont senator has been arguably more forceful on this front than Obama.

But as the Washington Post pointed out last week, if enough countries sign the Paris climate deal, the U.S. will either have to toe the line or start a long diplomatic fight in order to wrestle out of it.

Watch for the momentum on COP21 to continue anyway, as the Republican candidates are far too focused on this summer’s convention in Cleveland to rail against the climate agreement. After all, the U.S. already demonstrated the financial commitment to a global fund to help developing countries enact climate adaptation and mitigation plans. And tiny Papua New Guinea, an Exhibit A for how poor countries will fare in the future if climate change risks are not addressed, was the first nation to ink the agreement.

With India also set to sign the deal this Friday, much of the heavy lifting on global action to confront climate change will be done, regardless of who takes the oath of office in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 20.

Image credit: United Nations/Flickr

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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