On November 4, 2016, the Paris Climate Agreement will go into force. This comes only a month after crossing the threshold of at least 55 countries, responsible for at least 55 percent of total global heat-trapping emissions, joining the agreement.
This rapid entry into force is pretty unprecedented for a complex global agreement of this kind and comes just ahead of the next international climate meeting in Marrakech, Morocco, which will be held November 7-18.
So now what’s next for continuing the momentum on global climate action?
The historic Paris Agreement was a signal triumph of global diplomacy, demonstrating our ability to rise above narrow national interests and commit to a shared vision of future good.
Paris was a success because we got:
- Agreement among 190+ countries. It wasn’t a foregone conclusion though; getting there required a lot of advance groundwork and skillful diplomacy.
- An ambitious long term temperature and decarbonization goal that sends a strong signal to the global economy about which way we are headed. Countries have committed to the aim of “holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”
To achieve this temperature goal, the long-term goal is to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” (In other words, a goal to reach net zero global heat-trapping emissions by the latter half of the century, with developed countries taking the lead so that equity considerations for developing countries are respected).
- A process to raise the ambition of country climate actions over time, recognizing that the current commitments (the so-called NDCs) are not nearly enough. This will happen via a facilitative dialog in 2018, and global stock-taking every five years thereafter.
- A call for an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) special report in 2018 that will highlight the impacts of global warming if the global average temperature rises to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (also compared with impacts at 2°C). The report will also highlight the opportunities and challenges of global emission pathways that limit the temperature increase to this level. The report’s release will help frame the urgency of, and opportunity to make, deep cuts in emissions.
- Commitments (although lacking in sufficient detail) about helping developing countries make the clean energy transition and cope with the impacts of climate change. This is an area where further work, including financial assistance, is clearly required.
Paris gave us hope. Now comes the hard work of implementing and improving upon the Paris Agreement, living into the promises nations made there.
The Marrakech climate meeting, COP22, will be all about catalyzing action to deliver on the Paris Agreement. Some might consider this a “boring” COP relative to the headline-grabbing sensation that was Paris. But this is where the rubber meets the road.
Here’s what we hope to see:
- Progress on developing rules, timelines, and processes to help achieve the goals of the agreement.
- Further elaboration of how developed countries intend to help developing countries switch to low-carbon development pathways and build climate resilience, including firm financial commitments from developed countries and deadlines for meeting them.
- A clearer understanding of how the 2018 facilitative dialog, alongside the IPCC special report, will help increase the ambition of the NDCs over time.
- Strong signals from countries about the domestic policies they are implementing or intend to implement to achieve their global commitments.
Reasons for optimism
There are lots of reasons to be optimistic about climate progress these days. Just to cite a few:
- We’re continuing to see remarkable progress on clean energy deployment globally, not incidentally accompanied by rapidly falling costs. According to the latest REN21 report, the world now adds more renewable power capacity annually than it adds (net) capacity from all fossil fuels combined. Cities, communities, and companies around the world are choosing to go to 100% renewable energy. That list includes Hawaii and many American cities.
- The global community just reached a successful agreement on phasing down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), another set of powerful heat-trapping emissions, through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Last month countries also reached an agreement on limiting aviation emissions, a growing contributor to global carbon emissions that was not covered under the Paris Agreement.
- More and more countries and jurisdictions are moving to implement a price on carbon. Last month, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a national plan to price carbon by 2018. Provinces can set up their own programs or the federal government will step in, and the price must be a minimum of $10/tonne in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50/tonne by 2022. China is expected to launch a national cap-and-trade program next year, which will build on pilot programs that now operate in several provinces and set up the world’s largest carbon market to date.
- Coal use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the power sector continue to decline in the US (although rising methane emissions add a note of caution). And coal use in China also seems to have peaked.
At the same time, there’s a lot of work ahead to accelerate and deepen these trends. We also need to invest in a just, inclusive clean energy transition with benefits flowing to all communities.
Building on progress at home and abroad
All countries, including the US, have to implement ambitious domestic policies to live up to their global climate commitments. Current US policies—including the Clean Power Plan and vehicle efficiency standards—are critical to driving down our carbon emissions. We must do more to reach our current NDC goal of a 26-28% reduction below 2005 levels by 2025. This includes action to set methane standards for the oil and gas industry; increase efficiency measures; achieve further emissions cuts in the power and transportation sectors; and build up carbon storage in our forests, soils and grasslands.
Ahead of 2020, we should also put forward a strong 2030 emissions reduction goal and develop policies consistent with that.
The Obama administration’s engagement on global climate policy—alongside key nations like China, India, Mexico, the European Union countries, and Canada—helped secure the Paris Agreement and other bilateral agreements. The US also joined the ‘High Ambition Coalition,’ an effort started by the small island, African, and Caribbean nations to ensure that the Paris Agreement had a strong temperature limit.
The need for that kind of nimble, creative, hard work is more urgent now as we seek to raise ambition and deepen the equity dimensions of the climate agreement. Our actions can help build trust—or conversely, tear it down, depending on our choices.
All eyes on the US
Of course, the nation and the world are waiting to hear who the next US president will be. Regardless of the administration, we need continued strong leadership on global and domestic climate action from the president and from Congress. Mounting climate impacts show we don’t have any time to waste, and we know that a clean energy transition will bring significant health, economic, and climate benefits.
The bottom line: we need our next president and congress to act based on science—the science on climate change is clear, and calls for urgent action.
Oh, and do join the social media thunderclap to celebrate the Paris Agreement’s entry into force on November 4.
Support from UCS members make work like this possible. Will you join us? Help UCS advance independent science for a healthy environment and a safer world.