Leaders of 160 countries yesterday signed one of the most important agreements for the future of the Earth.
The signing of the Climate change Agreement, agreed late last year in Paris, coincided with Earth Day, the biggest civic event in the world and a celebration of the planet.
The signing ceremony in New York is arguably the biggest inking of an agreement in history, according to the UN, drawing so many countries on the first day of an agreement.
It attracted huge support which could help speed up the deal, making it effective long before the 2020 deadline.
It could even be able to come into effect by the end of this year, depending on the speed that it can be agreed upon through country’s domestic procedures.
The US and China – together making up 40 per cent of global emissions – have committed to join the agreement this year.
“As one of the most vulnerable nations to climate change, Rwanda is acutely aware of the challenges that lie ahead. And while the Paris Agreement is a historic step in the right direction, we must not be content with today’s signing alone. The real work now begins to ratify and match our commitments with action,” Louise Mushikiwabo, the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation said at the signing ceremony yesterday.
She noted that for more than a decade, Rwanda has taken a proactive approach and put the environment and climate change at the heart ‘‘of all we do’’.
Rwanda was the first country to ban plastic bags and commit to nationwide landscape restoration, and every year, Rwandans plant millions of trees to protect our forests, rivers and wetlands, the minister said.
Mushikiwabo pointed to the country’s long-term national development plan, Vision 2020, and the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy saying they are expected to propel Rwanda to a developed, climate resilient and low carbon economy by 2050.
The historic Paris Agreement on climate change paves the way for substantive action to limit global temperature increases to lower than 2 degrees with the ambition to reach lower than1.5 degrees Celsius below pre-industrial levels.
“As the world now accelerates efforts to reduce emissions, Rwanda is calling for greater research in the technologies and clean energy that can help us to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts. Dealing with climate change is not a choice between development and the environment, it’s about ensuring our development gains can be sustained for generations to come,” a statement released Thursday from Rwanda’s Ministry of Natural Resources said.
The UN Secretary-General convened the high-level signing ceremony for the agreement.
The agreement will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55 per cent of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.
And leaders believe that will be possible sooner rather than later.
During the UN conference in Paris last year, Rwanda called for a robust pact that ensured no country would be left behind in the effort to overcome climate change and develop green societies and economies.
Led by the Minister for Natural Resources, Dr Vincent Biruta, Rwanda’s delegation to Paris also shared the country’s ongoing efforts to respond to the impacts of climate change.
This includes the creation of Rwanda’s Green Fund, now a $100 million environment and climate change fund, that supports green investments and climate resilience initiatives across the country.
“Following the signing of the Paris Agreement, the next step for Rwanda will be to prepare ratification instruments allowing legal adoption and implementation,” the ministry statement added.
Brian Deese, an adviser to US President Barack Obama, speaking last week at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, said that countries are within striking distance of having the agreement start years earlier than anyone anticipated.
“There’s incredible momentum,” former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, who heads the U.N. Development Programme, told The Associated Press. “We’re moving as quickly as possible to action.”
Countries are already working together to push forward on the deal.
The Paris Agreement contains a range of measures that are meant to counteract the damage climate change is doing to the planet.
When it was signed late last year it was touted as a spectacular success, and the end of a long period of stagnation in climate negotiations.
But even if countries manage to bring the agreement into effect soon, it may not be enough, experts warn.
Scientists point out that the measures in the document might not be enough to keep temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius limit that, if breached, could cause huge damage across the world.
“Even if the Paris pledges are implemented in full, they are not enough to get us even close to a 2-degree pathway,” said John Sterman, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I don’t think people understand how urgent it is.”
Even if the pledges in the agreement are upheld, the world could be on track to rise as much as 3.5 degrees C, according to some analyses.
The key element of the Paris deal is requiring all countries to join the fight against global warming.
The objective of the agreement is to keep the global temperature rise “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. At that level, scientists believe the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. The agreement also includes an aspirational goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Temperatures have already risen by almost 1 degree C (1.8 degrees F) since the industrial revolution.
Countries are required to set national targets for reducing or reining in their greenhouse gas emissions. Those targets aren’t legally binding, but countries must report on their progress and update their targets every five years. The first cycle begins in 2020. Only developed countries are expected to slash their emissions in absolute terms. Developing nations are “encouraged” to do so as their capabilities evolve over time.
There is no penalty if countries miss their emissions targets. Instead, the agreement relies on transparency rules to motivate countries to fulfill their pledges. All countries must report on their efforts to reduce their emissions. But some “flexibility” is allowed for developing countries that need it, which was a key demand from China.
The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis.
That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn’t require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.
Loss and damage
In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing “loss and damage” associated with climate-related disasters. The U.S. long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.
The agreement will enter into force 30 days after 55 countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions have completed the ratification process. It’s possible to withdraw from the treaty, but not in the first three years after it enters into force. There’s also a one-year notice period, so the earliest a country could drop out is four years after the agreement has come into effect.