Unbeknownst to him, Donald Trump may have precipitated a major advance in the battle to curb the worst impacts of climate change. Trump’s rhetoric about canceling or renegotiating the Paris Agreement was, according to Devin Henry at The Hill, a major impetus toward the European Union’s decision to speed up the process of ratification.
Henry called the EU’s move “a power play against Trump.” Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Project on the Climate Agreements, told Henry: “[Trump’s] threat stimulated this rapid series of ratifications – China, the USA, Europe, and many others.”
American presidential politics aside, the unwavering voice of climate change denial certainly played a role, experts said. John Coequyt, global climate policy director for the Sierra Club, told Henry: “I think having that idea out there, that the world still is debating this in some way, I think puts pressure on countries to act quickly, to solidify the process and continue to move forward.”
The EU’s decision to ratify the Paris Agreement, which makes the agreement legally binding, may put a nail in the coffin of that debate.
At a press conference held by the World Resources Institute (WRI) on Wednesday, experts weighed in on this historic milestone. Paula Caballero and David Waskow of the Climate Program at WRI underscored that this is one of the most quickly ratified agreements in U.N. history. Andrew Light, WRI Distinguished Senior Fellow and former senior climate change advisor for the U.S. Department of State, said it was “one of only four agreements to have come into force within a year.”
The requirements for the entry into force were as follows:
First, a total of 55 nations had to sign on. Second, a minimum of 55 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions needed to be represented among the signatories. Only 52 percent of global emissions were accounted for at the beginning of this week. But a flurry of activity — including India‘s decision to sign on last weekend, combined with action by the EU — put both tallies well over the top. At this writing, 72 parties have signed on, representing 56.75 percent of global emissions, according to the UNFCC website. France, the U.K. and New Zealand have all signed on.
The agreement automatically goes into effect 30 days after the thresholds are crossed. With the agreement now in place, any nation wishing to withdraw must follow a four-year process. But such a decision would carry “significant diplomatic implications,” David Waskow of WRI said on Wednesday. Recent actions, particularly among the world’s largest powers, show this issue “is no longer in the diplomatic silo that it once was,” Waskow continued.
Indeed, outside of the Republican delegation in the U.S. Congress, the world’s leaders take this issue very seriously.
After the dual threshold passed, WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer had this to say: “With the Agreement in full force, countries can shift their focus from commitment to action.
“We need to increase investment in sustainable infrastructure and accelerate the uptake of renewable energy. We must create more livable, low-carbon cities and expand the supply of land and forests for carbon storage. We must slash food loss and waste, a major source of emissions and a travesty for people who lack enough food. And, we must continue to work at all levels – global, national, cities and communities – to build the political will for this transformation.”
Moving forward, what comes next is CMA1, which will take place as part of the COP22 meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, this November. In the CMA1, parties to the agreement will sit down and hammer out the detailed rules, procedures and guidelines that will determine precisely how the agreement will be carried out. It’s very much parallel to the way new laws are translated into regulations here in the U.S. Only parties that have signed on will have voting rights at CMA1, but all are welcome to attend as observers.
While the entry into force is encouraging, experts insist we mustn’t rest on our laurels: “The Paris Agreement is a turning point in the global fight to end climate change, but the hard work begins now,” Heather Coleman, who manages Oxfam America’s climate policy work, said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Oxfam estimates that the communities most vulnerable to feeling the effects of climate change are only receiving a fraction of the money that rich countries pledged to adaption. Figuring out how to close this gap and strengthen the resilience of these communities should be high on the list of priorities ahead of November’s United Nations climate change conference in Morocco.”
Trip Van Noppen, president of nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice, agreed: “Today we are accelerating the transition to clean energy, and sending a powerful signal to business, investors and communities that fossil fuels are not our future,” he said in a statement on Wednesday. “But we must do more and fast. Now that the Paris Agreement is in force, all nations, including the U.S., must double down on efforts to increase our ambition and reduce emissions further and faster.”
With grim news on the climate front becoming a regular feature, it’s good to see something positive for a change. World governmental leaders have overwhelmingly recognized both the seriousness and the urgency of the problem, as have hundreds of state and local leaders, as well as many businesses. Measures and achievements already in place were unthinkable just a few years ago.
We are, all of us, in a race against time, whether we know it or not. But the sooner we all know it, the better our chances will be of taking meaningful action before it’s too late.