The Paris climate change agreement passed a crucial milestone Wednesday, ensuring that it will officially go into effect in 30 days. The 195-country agreement was negotiated last December and signed at the U.N. in April, but in order to become official, it had to be ratified by at least 55 countries, as well as by countries accounting for 55 percent of global emissions. A big chunk of that came at the G20 meeting last month when President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping officially committed their countries, which account for 38 percent of emissions between them. India, the world’s third largest emitter, officially joined last week. With the addition of Canada, Nepal, and seven EU countries Wednesday, we’re now at 71 countries and 58.7 percent of emissions. It’s a deal!
The speed at which this came together is encouraging, considering it took more than seven years for the previous major emissions agreement, the Kyoto Protocol, to go into effect. Negotiators had hoped that the deal would enter into force before the next UN climate conference, which kicks off on Nov. 7 in Marrakech. That was considered an ambitious target, but it looks like they will just hit it. Current commitments still aren’t enough to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, much less the 1.5 degrees hoped for by vulnerable small island countries, but after years of stalling, there’s finally some real political momentum.
Of course, this could all still come off the rails. The word “ratification,” used in much of the coverage of the Paris deal, is misleading in the U.S. political context, as it implies congressional approval. Some countries have, indeed, sent the agreement to their legislatures, but the Obama administration specifically negotiated the language of the agreement down to the word so that it would not have to send it to the Senate, where it would almost certainly be defeated. Obama “ratified” the agreement (not a treaty) through executive action, which means that it could be undone through executive action, particularly the action of a particular executive who has suggested that climate change is all a Chinese hoax.
Donald Trump has pledged to “cancel” the Paris deal, and without the U.S., it’s hard to imagine China, India, or any major emitter following through on its pledges.