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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

U.S. and China Joined the Paris Agreement: So, What's Next?


Last week, the U.S. and China formally joined the Paris Agreement, just a day before the G20 Summit in Hangzhou, China. The U.S. and China are the top greenhouse gas emitters in the world and are responsible for nearly 40 percent of global GHG emissions.

Seeing these two huge emitters join the Paris Agreement means it is more likely to be ratified this year, or even as soon as this month. Ratification requires 55 percent of the 180 signatories, representing over 55 percent of global GHG emissions.

On April 22, the Agreement was opened for signature, culminating in the largest one-day signing event in the history of the U.N. As of Thursday, 27 parties formally joined, according to a ratification status tracker from the the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The signatories represent a little over 39 percent of global emissions, bringing the Agreement tantalizingly close to full-force. 

On Sept. 19, representatives will meet in New York City for the annual General Assembly of the United Nations. The “next wave of ratification,” is expected to happen here, Emilie Mazzacurati, CEO of advisory firm Four Twenty Seven, wrote on TriplePundit.

Let's take it back

Here's a bit of background, for those who may be rusty: In December, the Agreement was adopted by all parties during the COP21 climate talks in Paris. That basically means all representatives agreed on the language in the agreement. But it must go through several steps before entering into force in international law.

The first step is for countries to sign the Agreement, and 175 did in April. The pen-to-paper aspect of the signature is purely ceremonial. It signals that a country supports the agreement and “its intention to align its domestic policies with the Agreement terms and start the process of formally joining,” as Climate Nexus put it in a fact sheet.

Heads of state must then return to their countries and gain domestic approval to formally join, the second step. The third step begins when 55 countries covering 55 percent of emissions formally join the Agreement. “When these two thresholds are met the Agreement will enter into force,” according to Climate Nexus.

At a press conference last week, President Barack Obama referenced the 2014 climate pact between the U.S. and China. It set “landmark targets for our two countries to meet,” Obama said, and “set us on the road to Paris by jumpstarting an intense diplomatic effort to put other countries on the same course."

In 2015, China and the U.S. came together in Washington to “lay out additional actions our two countries would take, along with a roadmap for ultimately reaching a strong agreement in Paris,” the president went on. Now, of course, the two countries meet again “to commit formally to joining the agreement ahead of schedule, creating the prospect that the agreement might enter into force ahead of schedule, as well.”

“Of course, the Paris Agreement alone won’t solve the climate crisis,” Obama said. “But it does establish an enduring framework that enables countries to ratchet down their carbon emissions over time, and to set more ambitious targets as technology advances.

"That means full implementation of this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change, and pave the way for more progress in the coming years.”

What's next for the agreement: Could a Trump presidency spell the end?

China and the U.S. formally joining the Agreement makes it harder for the next American president to scrap it. GOP hopeful Donald Trump said he will renegotiate the Agreement if elected, and even hinted toward ditching it. "I will be looking at that very, very seriously, and at a minimum I will be renegotiating those agreements, at a minimum. And at a maximum I may do something else," Trump told Reuters.

But it may be hard for Trump to scrap the Agreement. Obama entered into it as as executive agreement and not a treaty, arguing that it isn’t a treaty since it doesn’t “impose any legally-binding constraints to the U.S.,” Mazzacurati wrote on 3p this week. While a treaty requires Senate ratification, an executive agreement does not. So, Trump wouldn't be able to get the Senate to revoke ratification.

Another roadblock: After the Agreement is entered into force, a country that has ratified it has to wait three years before starting the withdrawal process, and it will take a year after that to complete the process. So, it wouldn’t be likely that Trump, if elected, would be able to withdraw from the Agreement in just one term.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s purported views of the Agreement are in stark contrast to Trump’s. During her speech at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton said the Agreement must be enforced. “I’m proud that we shaped a global climate agreement – now we have to hold every country accountable to their commitments, including ourselves."

Image credit: Flickr/U.S. Department of Agriculture

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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