175 Nations Signed the Paris Climate Deal. Now What?

Friday, April 22 marked Earth Day. But it was also the day on which world leaders came together to officially sign the Paris climate deal.

In total, 175 parties sent representatives — including 55 world leaders, like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau – to the United Nations general assembly in New York. There they signed the climate change accords that were agreed upon at COP21 on December 6, 2015.

Around 15 small island nations had already signed the deal.

This represents the largest number of political leaders to ever sign on to an environmental deal at such an early stage. With the new agreement, the world is on course to surpass the last major environmental deal, the Kyoto Protocol.

For that reason, the Paris agreement represents a highly significant — if largely symbolic — event. World leaders agree that in order to stave off devastating climate change, we must keep temperature rise under 2ºC — and, if at all possible, 1.5 ºC.

“The world will have met the requirement needed for the Paris Agreement to enter into force if all 175 Parties that have signed today take the next step at the national level and join the Agreement,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon explained

More countries, including several key African nations, are expected to also sign on to the agreement in the coming weeks and months. The next step for many countries will be to ratify the agreement by seeking approval from lawmakers.

For the U.S., the process will be slightly different.

Secretary of State John Kerry has helped to facilitate a deal that, overall, falls squarely within the President’s authority. As a result, the administration has been able to side-step Congressional approval — but at a cost: it has meant few binding protocols.

The trade-off was deemed necessary because, even before the Paris agreement last year, the Republican majority in Congress signaled it would attempt to derail any new binding agreements.

The key goal for the United States in the short term will be to navigate any Republican roadblocks, like riders in future spending bills.

The Paris Climate Deal: A Primer

While the COP21 deal, as it is also known, contains many important details, we can briefly summarize key aspects of the deal as follows:

The major difference between this deal and the Kyoto Protocol is that every country classed as a major emitter must set individual targets to reduce emissions and overall fossil fuel use.

But there are no binding legal aspects to emissions caps. Instead, countries will set their own date for peak emissions and work toward reducing those emissions on target.

One key positive of the agreement, however, is that the Paris climate deal includes oversight. That means that the United Nations will be able to review and report on each country’s progress. Without binding mechanisms in the accords, reviews offer a way for nations to examine each other’s progress — and apply pressure if a given country isn’t making progress.

Lastly — and for the first time — the Paris deal notes that industrialized nations, like the United States and the European Union, are largely responsible for the climate change problem we now face. While China and India continue to be some of the most concerning emitters, the agreement aims to find solutions that do not rob developing nations of their economic growth.

The agreement also acknowledges that small island nations, which have already been — or soon will be — affected by climate change, need appropriate help and compensation. Some money has already been pledged for that aim.

Where Do We Go From Here?

It’s fair to say that even a few years ago, an agreement like the Paris deal looked impossible. Remember, for example, Copenhagen 2009? It is important not to overlook how much of an accomplishment this agreement represents.

At the same time though, it’s crucial to recognize that unless nations act on this agreement, it means very little.

One of the major tasks will be ensuring the oversight mechanism remains a healthy one and that compromises don’t turn into excuses, rendering the agreement worthless. That means nations must remain impartial to one another, while upholding agreed upon standards.

Funds must also be made available to establish accountability in existing carbon markets. And the challenge represented by the unfolding U.S. Presidential election cannot be underestimated.

The agreement would be dramatically undermined if Donald Trump or Ted Cruz were to become president. Both have signaled they oppose international deals like the Paris accords. Cruz, in particular, has been a vocal opponent of the scientific facts behind climate change.

A Republican win, therefore, would be a loss not just for America, but also for the wider world. The U.S. must help steer climate change action in the right direction.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

51 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallusabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

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sandra vito
Sandra Vitoabout a year ago

Thanks

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Hent catalina - maria
Hent catalina - mariaabout a year ago

Thanks

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Cathy B.
Cathy Babout a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Elaine W.
Past Member about a year ago

Vote these obstructionist Gop out of office. They are too dumb to be embarrassed.

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Just so deplorable how Climate Change Deniers thrash it, sick mongerals. Thank you for caring and sharing.

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Great information. Thank you for caring and sharing.

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Glennis Whitney
Glennis Wabout a year ago

Great article, But a lot of countries are setting the Bar too low including Australia. Direct Action the Biggest Farce in Climate Change Aussie Imbeciles. Thank you for caring and sharing.

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Grace Adams
Grace Adamsabout a year ago

Because world climate is very much part of the commons, there is no free market solution. It will take a massive tax and spend on a war-like scale public works project. I hope we can start with a tax on greenhouse emissions of $5/metric ton of CO2 equivalent, increasing another $5/ton each year up to the Social Cost of Carbon (federal government's best estimate of how much greenhouse emissions externalize costs on economy other than fossil fuel extractors). Half of revenue must go to buying fossil fuel as mineral rights to buy cooperation of too big to fail fossil fuel extractors. Other half can go to buying from too big to fail military industrial complex firms the renewable energy equipment needed to harness renewable energy needed to replace fossil fuel. Fossil fuel interests will still be pissed at being replaced; and military industrial interests will still be agitating for war, because was is SO VERY profitable. Can't please capitalists--they always want MORE!

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Patricia Harris
John Taylorabout a year ago

Samantha is right. If we actually care about this planet, then we should be the ones to lead the way... NOT a bunch of worthless pricks!!

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