On the heels of the ratification of the landmark Paris Agreement by the world’s two biggest emitters, USA and China, on a continuum of other enormous efforts made toward combating the impacts of global climate change, there appears to be a greater threat to this global milestone — the triumph of
Republican candidate Donald Trump in the recent US elections.
The Paris Climate Change Agreement came into effect on November 4, 2016 after crossing its second and final threshold of being ratified by countries covering over 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
The agreement, which aims to keep global temperature increase this century well below two degrees Celsius and drive efforts to limit temperature increases to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, was adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) at the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), held in Paris.
The Agreement required ratification by at least 55 of its 197 signatories – a threshold it crossed on September 21 this year by countries representing a total of 55 percent of global emissions.
By the beginning of this week the agreement had been ratified by 62 signatories, representing 51.89 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Now, following ratification by countries including Canada, New Zealand and the European Union, the total stands at 74 signatories, representing 58.82 percent of emissions, according to UNFCC data.
But many at the global climate change conference in Marrakech, where the agreement is expected to come into full swing, are beginning to panic because there is a likelihood that the US, which is the second highest emitter of greenhouse gases (17.5 percent of the global total), is at the verge of withdrawing from the process.
It would be a grave setback if this is to happen because the UNFCCC would have to wait again to acquire emitters’ signatures to fill the huge percentage void the United States would have left.
US President-elect Donald J. Trump considers climate change as a hoax and has never made secret of his belief. Therefore many stakeholders at the COP22 in Marrakech as well as the over 1600 journalists covering the conference, fear that his election as President of the US might just bring that country’s commitment to fight climate change to an end. On Sunday, November 13, Reuters reported that Mr. Trump seeks to expedite the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement, in spite of an unprecedented growing global support for the agreement.
While providing updates about events at the COP22 village over the weekend, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa and COP22 President Salaheddine Mezouar were confronted on issues, which are of much concern in Morocco. The biggest question here is: What would be the position of the
UNFCCC if the US withdraws from the process?
Espinosa and Mezouar’s responses were that they would continue to negotiate to ensure that the US lives up to its commitment. A very optimistic Mezouar noted that he does not see the US abandoning this commitment, “not even under President Trump.”
“The American people are very engaged and committed to the fight against climate change,” said COP22 President Mezouar, who is also Morocco’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.
Meanwhile the United States joined China to formally ratify the Paris Agreement to curb climate-warming emissions on Saturday, which could help put the pact into force before the end of the year.
Many global leaders, especially advocates of climate change, felt that the signal of the two large emitters taking this step together and taking it early, far earlier than people had anticipated a year ago, should give confidence to the global communities and to other countries that are working on their climate change plans, that they too need to act quickly.
The US and China also committed to cooperate on two other global environmental agreements this year – an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down air-conditioning refrigerants and on a market-based measure to reduce carbon emissions from aviation.
With the two biggest emitters ready to lead, the transition to low-emissions, climate-resilient global economy is now irreversible, and many were of the conviction that the Paris Agreement was at the verge of becoming “the law of the world.”
Before China and the United States, 23 nations had ratified – including Liberia and North Korea – but they collectively accounted for just 1.08 percent of global emissions, according to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. China represents just over 20 percent of global emissions while the
United States accounts for 17.9 percent, Russia 7.5 percent and India 4.1 percent.
However, the ability of the United States to achieve its Paris targets could be affected by the outcome of a federal court hearing this month, in which 27 U.S. states are trying to block the Federal Clean Power Plan that slashes CO2 from power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
Additionally, the U.S. Republican Party platform has also questioned the legality of the Executive Order used to ratify the Paris deal, saying it will need the consent of the Senate before it becomes binding.
Defeated US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, back then, expressed her strong support for the accord, but her Republican counterpart, Trump, dismissed the “man-made climate change” as a hoax. He made it clear that he would abandon the Paris Agreement if elected.
However, countries that ratified the deal will have to wait for three years after it has gone into legal force before they can begin the process of withdrawing from it, according to the agreement signed in Paris. Trump may not have the temperance wait out the withdrawal process but, as President Obama told journalists yesterday in his first press conference since the US elections, “This office [of the President] has a way of waking you up.”