Pressure is mounting on nations with high emissions to formally endorse the United Nation’s Paris Agreement on climate change, following ratification of the accord by the United States and China ahead of last weekend’s G20 meeting in Hangzhou.
The agreement requires the ratification of 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions before it can enter into force.
Prior to the US and China’s formal endorsement, 24 states had ratified the agreement, but most were countries with small economies and thus negligible emissions profiles, such as the Maldives and the Bahamas. A total of 180 countries have signed the accord, but a signature is largely a symbolic move, signalling that a country’s executive will attempt to ensure domestic ratification.
With Washington and Beijing now on board, who together represent 38 percent of global GHGs, other large emitters are expected to follow suit, making it more likely that the accord will go into effect this year. Early entry into force would allow countries to begin negotiating the details of the accord, perhaps as soon as the next annual UN climate meeting, which will take place this November in Marrakech, Morocco.
Commentators have also noted that early entry into force would reduce the chances of a future US president being able to scuttle the deal—a significant point given that outgoing Democratic President Barack Obama has been criticised by the Republican-controlled Congress for bypassing the legislature and ratifying the accord himself. The White House argues that the document is merely an “executive agreement” and not a treaty, which would require the consent of two thirds of the Congress.
Ratification by the European Union (EU), responsible for 12 percent of global emissions, and just a handful of other countries, would satisfy the agreement’s 55-55 thresholds. However, the EU is not itself a state, but a group of 28 sovereign countries who each have their own ratification procedures—thus complicating their ability to co-ordinate the common front they favour presenting to the international community.
Canada is somewhat similarly constrained. Ottawa said in the spring that its ratification would be unlikely before the fall, as the federal government wants to stitch together the patchwork of widely varying provincial climate and energy policies first. At the G20 summit, Prime Minister Trudeau emphasised climate change along with trade and a global pro-growth agenda in his deliberations with other leaders.
Outcomes of the G20 meeting itself include its 20 members’ commitment to “rapid” ratification of the Paris Agreement and a phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies in the “medium term”. Environmental campaigners however were disappointed that summit did attach any firm deadline to either pledge.
Canada hands out $3.3 billion annually in fossil fuel subsidies, according to an analysis out this week from the International Institute for Sustainable development.
Energy economist Mark Jaccard helped design BC’s carbon tax, and he still supports it. But he questions just how politically viable a stringent tax—at the level needed to meet climate targets—can really be. So he also continues to explore how other policies that the public find more acceptable could work.