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Mary Mazzoni headshot

3p Weekend: The Climate Deadline No One Is Talking About (Yet)

By Mary Mazzoni

With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

On Dec. 12, 2015, the U.N. Conference of Parties (COP) formally adopted the Paris Agreement, a global deal by nearly 200 nations to address climate change. On Earth Day of this year, representatives from 175 nations made their way to the U.N. Headquarters in New York to formally sign the agreement. It was "the largest one-day signing event in the history of the U.N.,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in April.

But the journey is far from over. In order for the agreement to go into effect and become legally binding, at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions need to formally join.

Most heads of state who ceremonially signed this spring returned to their countries to gain domestic approval to join the agreement. Once such domestic thresholds are crossed, leaders will return to the U.N. to issue their formal “instruments of ratification” — which is a fancy way of saying they agree to be bound by the terms of the agreement.

Only 15 nations representing a mere 0.04 percent of global emissions formally joined the agreement in April. But some large countries are tantalizingly close to joining this list -- which could lead to a full-force Paris Agreement by the end of the year.

"The prospects of the Paris Agreement entering into full effect in under a year have gone from unlikely to plausible to 'too close to call,'" Rhys Gerholdt, communications manager for the World Resources Institute's Climate Program, told TriplePundit in an email.

As the agreement continues its slow march through legislatures around the world, there's one impending deadline no one is talking about -- at least not yet: If 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions formally join the agreement by Oct. 7, the agreement will go into effect before the COP22 climate talks in Morocco this November.

"Hitting that deadline would make COP22 the first session under the Paris Agreement, which has important implications for a wide array of rules and procedures that are meant to transform the Paris Agreement from high-level goals into specific action plans," Gerholdt said.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) is arguably the No. 1 source of up-to-the-minute information on the Paris Agreement. The group launched its interactive Paris Agreement Tracker in April to keep tabs on the agreement as it moves toward implementation (below). And WRI analysts have their eyes on all plausible scenarios that could bring the agreement into effect.

Last week, WRI’s international legal expert Eliza Northrop examined countries that are on the cusp of ratifying the agreement domestically -- and the dozens of others that committed to complete that step this year. You can check out her full blog post here. But if you're short on time, read on for the nitty-gritty.

More countries join the agreement

Fifteen countries formally joined the agreement on the day of the signing ceremony in April. The vast majority were small island nations, including the Maldives, Palau, Fiji and 11 Caribbean states, as well as Somalia in East Africa.

The number of joined states has since risen to 22. Norway became the first European nation to join on June 20, and Peru formally joined at the end of last month. And analysts expect the list to keep on growing.

"Over the past two months, Cameroon, Brazil, Iran and Ukraine took important steps domestically to formally join the Paris Agreement," Northrop wrote on the WRI blog. She went on to elaborate on what's happening in these four nations:

Cameroon’s National Assembly approves ratification: "On June 10, members of Cameroon’s bicameral National Assembly adopted the bill authorizing the President of the Republic, Paul Biya, to join the Paris Agreement," Northrop wrote. The Central African nation, accounting for 0.45 percent of global GHG emissions, formally joined the agreement on July 29. It was the second African country to do so, following Somalia.

Brazil’s House of Representatives unanimously approves joining: "The House of Representatives (the lower house of Brazil’s bicameral National Congress) unanimously approved the country joining the Paris Agreement on July 12," Northrop wrote. It heads to the Senate next, where it will need an absolute majority in order to take the form of a legislative decree. "This process could be completed this year," Northrop predicted. And if so, it would be big news: Brazil is the world’s seventh-largest emitter, accounting for 2.48 percent of global emissions, and it's a key piece of the pie in most of the WRI's full-effect scenarios (see above).

Iran’s Cabinet of Ministers ratifies the Agreement: "Iran’s Cabinet, headed by President Hassan Rouhani, ratified the Paris Agreement on July 13 and sent it for final approval to the Majles, Iran’s unicameral legislative body," Northrop explained. If the agreement passes the legislative muster, it will be signed by the president and deposited with the U.N. With almost all of its energy coming from fossil fuel sources, Iran accounts for 1.3 percent of global emissions.

Ukraine adopts law to ratify: "On July 14, 279 members of Ukraine’s unicameral legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, voted to adopt a law ratifying the Paris Agreement," Northrop wrote. The country has yet to deposit its instrument of ratification, but is expected to do so soon. Ukraine is the largest country in Eastern European and accounts for 1.04 percent of global emissions.

So, what happens now?

In addition to these four nations, a number of big players have pledged to formally join the agreement by the end of this year -- including China, the U.S., Mexico, Canada and Australia, Northrop wrote. But even if all of these nations make good on their promises to join, "the world would still be 1.05 percent short of the 55-percent threshold," she explained.

While that's not necessarily great news, the story doesn't end there. "A number of other large emitters have sent positive signals in national statements of their intent to join in a timely manner," Northrop went on. These include India, Russia, Japan, Saudi Arabia and New Zealand.

"If a combination of these countries were to join this year, we would easily exceed the 55 percent of emissions needed for the agreement to take effect."

If we can cross the finish line before the Oct. 7 deadline, the first meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement would be held in conjunction with COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, in November.

"Such rapid entry into force would continue the momentum created at Paris last year, help spur early implementation, and reinforce the global commitment to building a zero-carbon, climate-resilient future," Northrop concluded.

Explore the Paris Agreement Tracker to check out the scenarios in which the agreement could enter into force this year. And if you'd like to see your home country join, take a moment to call or email your representatives to let them know it's important to you.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/COP Paris; 2) Courtesy of the World Resources Institute 

Mary Mazzoni headshot

Mary has reported on sustainability and social impact for over a decade and now serves as executive editor of TriplePundit. She is also the general manager of TriplePundit's Brand Studio, which has worked with dozens of organizations on sustainability storytelling, and VP of content for TriplePundit's parent company 3BL. 

Read more stories by Mary Mazzoni