Written by Clare Ferguson,
International leaders may have agreed the COP21 climate change proposals, but they have not, as yet, ratified the Paris Agreement. For this to happen, and for national processes to kick off, Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change must first sign the agreement, which will be opened for signature by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a ceremony on 22 April 2016 at the United Nations in New York.
Countries have one year to sign the agreement, which will only actually enter into force once 55 countries, representing 55% of global emissions, have completed their domestic process and deposit their ratification. Leaders from over 130 countries are expected to attend the ceremony, among them French President François Hollande, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres and COP21 President, Segolène Royal. The European Union is a Party to the Agreement. As the Netherlands currently hold the Presidency of the European Council, Dutch Environment Minister Sharon Dijksma will, jointly with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič, sign the Paris Agreement in New York on behalf of the European Union. Commissioner Arias Cañete will also be present to deliver the EU’s official statement.
Signature of the agreement, which frames global actions to address climate change after 2020 by committing to maintain the increase in global temperatures well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, will initiate nations’ commitments to act to bring global greenhouse gas emissions to a peak, and to balance these with removals of greenhouse gases. Although the scope and ambition of the Paris Agreement have been criticised as ‘too little, too late‘, it certainly presents a historic step forward in the race against the negative effects of global climate change.
The agreement applies to all Parties, but introduces differentiation in responsibilities and capabilities to take developing countries’ circumstances into account. Contrary to previous agreements, the United States has, this time, agreed to sign, particularly supporting the mechanism whereby Parties to the agreement must submit an updated, and incrementally ambitious, nationally determined contribution (NDC) each five years. Secretary of State John Kerry will deliver remarks at the opening ceremony and sign the agreement on behalf of the United States. The EU has committed to a binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 (compared to 1990). A major element in EU plans is to reform the Emissions Trading System.
Climate change has become increasingly disruptive throughout the world, with water scarcity, development issues, and consequences closer to home, such as transport emissions, raising public concern. International cooperation is key to tackling climate change-related problems – national or even regional action is insufficient, as ‘carbon leakage’ (relocating production of emissions from regions with stricter policies to those which are more flexible) simply displaces the problem. New EU rules on carbon leakage will also be introduced, along with financial provisions to encourage innovation in the energy sector. The Commission’s ‘Energy Union strategy‘ already prioritises energy efficiency as a means to cut emissions in a cost-effective way.
Signature of the Paris Agreement thus marks the start of the process for the ambitions of the COP21 conference to enter into force. The next step is the first session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement to take place in Bonn from 16 to 26 May 2016.