Paris Agreement offers glimmer of hope

It is widely expected that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will enter into force on November 4, 2016.

It is widely expected that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will enter into force on November 4, 2016.

The Paris Agreement requires at least 55 Parties to the treaty, accounting in total for at least 55 per cent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions, to have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the depositary. As of now, 81 out of 197 Parties have ratified the agreement. This means the agreement could enter into force less than a year since its adoption!

 

On the African continent, least 16 States, including Rwanda, have so far ratified the Agreement. This is a monumental step forward though it calls for the rest to follow suit. The same is true for all countries to ratify the Agreement. It is quite important to note that the USA, China, EU, Canada and New Zealand have as well ratified the Agreement. Moreover, they are widely known to be the biggest carbon-emitters in the world. Quite obviously, it now gives a glimmer of hope that in the near future we will experience a gradual stabilisation of the climate system.

 

This rapid entry into force arguably is one of the most unparalleled achievements in multilateral treaty making. Just take a look back when the Paris Agreement was adopted in December 2015. It was a landmark achievement, or a watershed moment in the area of international environmental law. It was such a moment that states of this world came together and cooperated in the face of a global intractable challenge.

 

In the same enthusiasm, in less than six months, it was opened for signature on April 22, 2016 in New York, and many countries have since put pen to it. In September alone, as many states gathered in New York to attend the UN General Assembly Summit, more than a dozen countries ratified the Agreement. Certainly, today, no one expected this to happen within less than a year since it opened for signature as noted above.

This haste to ratification reflects the growing willingness to reduce greenhouses gas emissions to mitigate the threat of global warming, largely emanating from anthropogenic activities. Unlike past fruitless efforts, the Paris Agreement gained unprecedented political will of the world’s super powers, such as the US and China. However, this does not signify that the former and the latter can mitigate the global intractable problem of climate change without cooperation and collaboration of all nations. Similarly, developing countries, especially from Africa, support the abatement of global temperature increase below ‘2C (3.6F)’ and to pursue efforts to limit it to ‘1.5C’.

Though the threshold for entry into force of the Paris Agreement has been achieved, it is another thing to get it effectively implemented. It needs a diverse support of a large array of stakeholders, civil society organisations, private actors, companies, banks, insurance firms, all economic sectors, academic institutions, constituencies et cetera. Of course, the superior responsibility is borne by the governments, in addition to adopting legal and policy frameworks, to sensitise citizens and private sector to be in support of national commitment with respect to the enforcement of this treaty.

It is noteworthy that the Paris Agreement created a kind of gravitational pull, by availing the incentives necessary for others to join the agreement. It is evoking new behaviour, sufficiently influencing states so that their reactions (and actions) fulfill the conditions for entry into force, against all odds.

Another point that possibly motivates states to be part of the Agreement lies in the very architecture and content of the agreement. It basically has been purpose-built to make it easy for states to come on board. By letting Parties come forward with their nationally determined contributions, the agreement managed to ‘pick up’ every state where it is at this point of time, preserving sovereign space.

Without being overly prescriptive or intrusive, it brings states together under the same goals and principles, such as progression and highest possible ambition. Accordingly, Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement states that ‘each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs) that it intends to achieve’.

As such, State parties are required to pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions. Technically speaking, in part, specifically Article 4, the Agreement’s language sounds exhortatory rather than mandatory, but its bindingness is seen in the political will behind the swift ratification by a good number of states.

At this point, this is a major landmark for the earth but at the same time a call for ratification of those countries that are yet to ratify. Certainly, if the agreement is implemented in full it will make a big difference to worsening global warming. The Paris Agreement, together with the recently adopted Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol on phasing out gases known as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) widely used in fridges, air conditioning and aerosol sprays, will protect the environment against the impact of harmful substances.

The writer is an international law expert.

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