The multi-year effort to secure a new international climate agreement reached a crescendo last December when the world came together to strike the Paris climate agreement. This was a historic moment with profound implications for our planet, and it rightly attracted leaders from 196 countries and almost 50,000 participants.
The attention was well deserved. But now, countries are left with the critical task of bringing the agreement into effect, meeting the commitments within it, and negotiating the steps necessary to fulfill its potential. Lead climate negotiators from countries around the globe are in Bonn, Germany, this week discussing these vital next steps.
For the Obama administration, rather than affording it a respite from the issue for its final year, the Paris agreement injected a new urgency into the President’s international climate agenda and bequeathed an ambitious workload for the next seven months. Success for the U.S. over this time-span will in large part hinge on how these following questions are answered. (And learn even more in EPIC’s Off the Charts podcast)
How soon will the Paris agreement come into force?
While countries were able to reach a deal on the text of the agreement, it will not come into force until 55 countries constituting 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions formally join. What this entails exactly varies from country to country based on domestic laws, and the agreement is designed to allow countries a few years to reach this threshold.
Naturally, the Obama administration wants to do everything it can to lock in as much progress as possible under its watch—while the set of world leaders who blessed the agreement are still in office and there is significant global momentum on the issue—rather than passing the work off to unknown future presidents, prime ministers, congresses and parliaments. After all, once the agreement goes into force, any country seeking to withdraw would need to go through a four year process that would be extremely diplomatically painful.
For the U.S., joining is straightforward and only requires that the administration deposit its instrument of ratification. No vote by Congress is required to do this, and the Obama administration should have no problem doing so this year.
The challenge is getting enough other countries to do the same. On this front, progress has been encouraging and exceeded all expectations. Last month, on Earth Day, 175 countries signed the agreement at the United Nations. Thirty-five of those countries— representing almost 50% of global emissions—have committed to formally join the agreement this calendar year. The U.S. is working its diplomatic levers to help hurry them along. Meanwhile, the EU—whose emissions would tip the scales—has done everything it can to assure the world that it will join the agreement, and expects to do so no later than 2017.
Can the U.S. demonstrate to the world that it is determined to meet its Paris commitments?
As a first step to encouraging other countries to join and meet their commitments, the Obama administration needs to demonstrate to the world that it fully intends to meet all of its commitments. On this front, a bump in the road came just months after Paris when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay on an important tool to reduce emissions from power plants, the Clean Power Plan. The uncertainty around the rule, combined with the anti-climate rhetoric of some candidates on the campaign trail and the aim of some members of Congress to undo the Obama administration’s progress in this area, has fueled some anxiety at home and around the world about the U.S.’s ability to continue moving forward.
The Obama administration is doing its part to counter the anxiety. Last December, it struck a deal with Congress for the extension of key renewable energy tax credits. In January, the Department of Interior announced that it would launch a process to reform its coal-lease policy on public lands and put a moratorium on new coal leasing in the meantime. In March, the administration took a step toward fulfilling its climate finance commitments in Paris by transferring its first $500 million of support to the global Green Climate Fund. And, just this month, the Environmental Protection Agency announced limits on methane emissions from new oil and gas sources.
With another seven months in office, we should expect more actions to come.
Will the next official round of annual climate negotiations mark a successful start to the “Paris era”?
While the votes are being cast to decide who the next U.S. president will be, global climate negotiators will be meeting once again. This time, in Marrakesh, Morocco. The international political and media spotlight will certainly not shine as brightly on Marrakesh as it did on Paris, but the long-term efficacy and success of the Paris agreement requires that these annual negotiation sessions deliver results.
The hard negotiations of Paris required trade-offs and compromises. In its aftermath, some countries will inevitably seek to re-litigate or reinterpret aspects of the agreement. In what will surely be among its final acts, the Obama administration must itself resist such impulses and help Morocco set a powerful precedent that demonstrates these annual sessions are capable of advancing and helping to implement the substance and spirit of the Paris agreement.
A good first test of resolve will be the ability to take the steps needed toward operationalization of the Transparency Framework that was agreed to in Paris. Transparency is a crucial—albeit sensitive and controversial—aspect of the agreement. It is also a legal obligation, and one that must be robustly implemented to ensure countries are on track and are able to hold one another accountable.
The international communities’ ability to reach a new climate agreement was a momentous occasion. But just as the world had to come together to pave a road to Paris that made success possible, the world now needs to pave a road from Paris together to fulfill its potential. The U.S. and the rest of the world have the opportunity and responsibility to lay the first stones this year.
***Want to learn more? I talked about this topic in EPIC’s new Off the Charts podcast series. Listen here.