Paris Agreement 101 and Next Steps

On #EarthDay2016, 174 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement at the opening ceremony at United Nations Headquarters in New York. Seychelles and Gambia have also since signed on.

The Conference of Parties (COP) is an international political response to climate change which began in 1992. COP21, also known as the Paris Climate Conference, brought parties together to achieve a universal goal on climate: keeping global warming below 2° C. “This is by far the largest number of countries ever to sign an international agreement on a single day,” stated the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Among the 175 signers were 55 heads of State, including French President François Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Signing the Paris Agreement is more than just a declaration. Signatures indicate the intention to be bound by the agreement. The remaining twenty countries that have not signed the agreement have a year to do so.

For the Paris Agreement to enter into force at least 55 countries accounting for a total of 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions must ratify the agreement. Sixteen states have already ratified, including Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Marshall Islands, and Maldives. France has plans to present their ratification bill to their National Assembly for approval next week, on May 17th, but the 55 percent threshold cannot be achieved without the ratification of at least one of the top four emitting parties, China, the United States, the European Union or Russia.

On March 31st, China and the United States announced together that they would not only sign the agreement on Earth Day but also work to ratify the agreement as early as possible. The United States and Canada together announced their intention to limit their methane emissions. Scotland has recently shut down its last coal plant. Elsewhere, developing countries like India have been rapidly expanding their renewable energy capacity.

Having nearly all parties to the Paris Agreement sign it last Earth Day was a critical move that shows how countries are able to work together to reduce the impact of climate change and achieve a sustainable future for the next generation.