The Paris Agreement could come into effect in 2018, two years earlier than originally planned, according to UN climate chief Christiana Figueres, increasing the currently slim chances that nations will swiftly deepen their emission reduction pledges.
An early start to the Paris pact is possible because in the final text there was no reference to the deal coming into effect from 2020, Figueres said during a question-and-answer session after delivering a lecture in London late Monday, Bloomberg reported.
“At some point the decision was made to remove that sentence. That means the Paris deal will go into effect when it’s ratified by at least 55 nations representing at least 55% of greenhouse gas emissions.”
An earlier-than-expected active pact would not affect the voluntary emission-curbing pledges (NDCs) that countries have put forward. However, it may alter how governments approach a 2018 UN voluntary stocktake that aims to examine if the goals can be made more ambitious, according to Stig Schjolset, a climate policy analyst at Thomson Reuters Point Carbon.
“Legally, it doesn’t change anything, but politically the pressure to increase pledges becomes stronger. If things are moving forward everyone will feel pressured to do a bit more,” he told Carbon Pulse.
Current national pledges are on track to limit warming to 2.7C, far above the 2C limit outlined in the Paris Agreement.
Despite rising pressure, Schjolset doubted that the so-called “facilitative dialogue” in 2018 would focus on deepening the current pledges to 2025-2030, and said governments would be more likely to use the forum to discuss future targets.
“Of the big emitters, there is really only China that has the potential to change its current target. Its emissions already could be peaking and its political process is easier to change the goal,” he added.
At least 130 governments plan to sign the Paris Agreement at an Apr. 22 ceremony in New York. Signing is the first step towards the deal entering into force.
Figueres said 10 nations are also expected to ratify the Agreement at the ceremony.
The world’s two biggest emitters, China and the US, accounting for around 40% of global emissions, have promised to attend and sign, and have pledged to formally join the pact later this year.
Many countries, including most EU member states, require a parliamentary vote to ratify.
The EU, with around 12% of global emissions, may also take longer if its lawmakers tie progress to a parallel lawmaking process for sharing out the bloc’s collective Paris pledge among all EU states and ETS sectors.
However, some experts still predict the 55% threshold can be reached this year as it would require the support of just a few other major emitters such as Russia, India, Japan, and Brazil.
“My sense is that it (ratification) will move fairly quickly, possibly this year,” Alden Meyer, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Reuters.
Having a deal ratified in 2018 could risk the EU being shut out of negotiations on elaborating rules under the pact, including its provisions enabling international emissions trade and a new carbon market mechanism, according to Schjolset.
“This could be a spur for the EU states to ratify promptly, but it’s unclear whether the UN process could agree workarounds that would still enable the EU to participate,” he added.
Many nations are pushing for swift ratification to help slow climate change, but also to lock it in place for four years before a change in the White House next year that might bring a weakening of Washington’s long-term commitment, Reuters reported.
Once the deal enters into force, a provision in Article 28 of the Agreement requires any nation wanting to withdraw to wait four years – the length of a US presidential term.
This would hinder efforts by climate sceptic Republican candidates such as Donald Trump or Ted Cruz should they win the US presidency and succeed Barack Obama in Jan. 2017.
“I would expect non-compliance, but not necessarily a formal withdrawal” under a Republican president, Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, told Reuters.
The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the Paris pact’s predecessor, only entered into force in 2005 after years of disputes and was severely undermined by the lack of participation by the US.
Meanwhile this week, the IPCC, a panel of UN-backed scientists, began work to conclude by 2018 on how the world could limit warming to 1.5C, following the target’s surprise inclusion in the Paris Agreement.
The Agreement set a collective target to hold temperatures “well below” 2C on pre-industrial levels, with a non-binding aspirational goal to “pursue efforts” to limit temperature rises at 1.5C.
Scientists’ views vary over whether limiting warming to 1.5C is still feasible, but some low-lying islands point to models that suggest they will disappear if temperatures hit 2C, which made it unthinkable for them to sign up to a pact that failed to mention deeper ambition.
By Ben Garside – email@example.com