Climate Change Blog Series: Update on the Paris Agreement

Climate Change Blog Series: Update on the Paris Agreement

This is the eleventh post in the Environmental Law Centre’s new blog series exploring climate change law in Canada. This blog series provides updates on climate change law developments and includes insights from our related law reform research. This blog series is generously funded by the Alberta Law Foundation.

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Less than one year ago, in December 2015, states came together in Paris to conclude the Paris Agreement on climate change (see our previous blog on the Paris Agreement here). Key features of the Paris Agreement are to limit the increase in global temperature well below 2.0 degrees Celsius with efforts to limit the change to 1.5 degrees Celsius; and to commit Parties to the Agreement to determine and provide nationally determined contributions (“NDC”) and to regularly report on emissions and implementation efforts.

This blog provides some updates on the current efforts to ratify the Agreement and bring it into force. The Paris Agreement enters into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 % of the total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Depository (Art. 21 of the Paris Agreement).

International agreements, conventions or protocols on global environmental issues usually have many hurdles to overcome with the result it can take a significant amount of time before such agreements enter into force. In some cases, the agreements never enter into force. However, the Paris Agreement has the potential to mark a historic moment in international environmental law as entering into force within record time.

Despite only being negotiated in December 2015, it looks as though the agreement could actually come into force any time this year perhaps as soon as October. The current situation could almost be described as a race to push the Paris Agreement into force before the year end and, ideally, before the next Conference of the Parties (CoP) takes place in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.

In total 197 States have agreed to be Parties to the Paris Agreement. United Nations General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon had urged states to ratify the Paris Agreement. One threshold for entry into force was reached on September 21, 2016, when the 55th Party ratified the Agreement. That threshold has now been exceeded and 61 Parties combined GHG emissions of 47.79 % have ratified the Paris Agreement. In addition, on September 28th, India’s Parliament approved ratification of the Paris Agreement and announced that it would be submitting its ratification instrument on October 2 (Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary). With India’s GHG emissions accounting for 4.1 % of global emissions, the second threshold for entry into force (namely, representation of 55% of global GHG emissions) is being approached.

Parties that have ratified the Paris Agreement include Brazil, Mexico, USA and China.

A period of indetermination in the European Union (EU) on the Paris Agreement came to an abrupt end once EU Member States realized that the Agreement might come into force without them. EU Member States consider it crucial to be among the ratifying states that enable the Paris Agreement to come into force. Otherwise, the EU Member States fear damage to their reputation as climate leaders and their importance in global climate matters. Accordingly, the EU is under pressure to ratify the Paris Agreement and has changed its common ratification process. Instead of the EU ratifying for all Member States together, each EU Member State is ratifying individually and, when the last EU Member State is ready to ratify, the EU itself will also ratify. This altered process enables those EU Member States that are ready for ratification to do so right now instead of waiting until the last state is ready for ratification. In combination, the GHG emissions of the EU Member States accounts for around 10% of global emissions.

Currently, several EU Member States are rushing the Paris Agreement through their parliaments. For instance, Germany has experienced an almost unprecedented fast-tracked cooperation between all important actors (Bundestag and Bundesrat) to get the green light for ratification. In June this year, France ratified the Paris Agreement – the first G20 country to do so. The rush to ratify is based in a late awareness and concern over image as climate leaders. It is also driven by the potential outcome of the US elections in November wherein presidential candidate Donald Trump has indicated a potential withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

While Canada signed the Paris Agreement in April 2016, there are currently no signs that Canada is close to ratification of the Agreement. This seems a bit surprising given Canada’s historic tendency to follow the US in international matters and the current federal government’s proclaimed interest and enthusiasm to address environmental problems. However, despite being almost 8% (only 4% once India formally commits) shy of the total global GHG emissions threshold needed to ratify, we are hopeful that the Paris Agreement will enter into force within the next couple of months. Further, we hope that Canada will take concrete steps to ratify its participation in the Paris Agreement and take its place as a climate leader on the world stage.

 

 

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