Simply put: Signatures begin on Paris climate deal. What now?

At the UNHQ in New York on Friday, 174 countries and the EU put signatures on the Paris Agreement on climate change that was negotiated in December 2015. AMITABH SINHA explains the significance of the event, and the road ahead.

Written by Amitabh Sinha | Published: April 25, 2016 2:07:39 am
Paris Climate deal, Paris Climate Agreement, Climate treaty, climate change, emissions reduction, Prakash Javadekar minister for environment and forests, United Nations climate treaty, signing in New York, record for signature of most countries, india news, world news Indian Union Minister of State for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the United Nations Headquarters New York (Reuters)

What does ‘signing the Paris Agreement’ mean?

Signing is the first of the two-step process to operationalise the Paris Agreement. The next step is the ratification of the Agreement by competent authorities in each of these countries. That is a more complicated and time-consuming process. Signing shows the ‘intention’ of countries to take steps to ratify the Agreement in due course. The UN says Friday’s ‘show of intention’ far exceeds the record for first-day signatures to any international agreement so far.

So, have all countries signed the Agreement?

No. More than 190 countries were present at the climate change conference in Paris last year where the Paris Agreement was negotiated and adopted. Countries have a year to put their signatures on the Agreement. Friday, April 22, was just the first day of that one-year window. Being Earth Day, it had great symbolic value. The large turnout for signing on the opening day is an attempt to express the unambiguous resolve of the global community to fight climate change on an urgent basis.

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And which are the countries that did not turn up?

About 15-20 — among them, major oil producing states like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Kazakhstan, whose economies are likely to take a substantial hit because of a faster shift to renewable energies dictated by climate change. War-torn Syria and Yemen also did not show up. Neither did Kazakhstan’s neighbours in central Asia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

What happens if some countries do not ultimately sign the Agreement?

For its operationalisation, the Paris Agreement requires the signing and ratification by at least 55 countries which together account for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Both conditions need to be met. Once these conditions are fulfilled, the Agreement would come into effect regardless of the number of countries that remain outside. But only those who join the Agreement by ratifying it would be bound by its provisions.

Countries can join after the operationalisation of the Agreement as well. And it is possible that countries sign the Agreement but do not ratify it. These countries would eventually not be part of the Agreement. The United States, for example, had signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, the existing climate change agreement that will be replaced by the Paris Agreement in 2020, but did not ratify it, and thus remained outside that system.

How is ratification done?

Countries follow different systems and domestic laws to adhere to international treaties or agreements. In some cases, the government of the day is competent to decide whether the country would be part of an international legal agreement or not. Some other nations require an explicit permission from Parliament to join such international arrangements. In many countries, a Presidential decree is enough. It all depends on the political system that the country follows, the nature of its government and its domestic laws, and also the kind of international treaty or agreement under consideration.

In India, approval of Parliament will not be required for the government to ratify the Paris Agreement. A Cabinet decision to this effect would be enough. The United States, on the other hand, would need the approval of both Houses of Congress to join the Agreement. In the case of the EU, ratification will be even more complicated because the consent of each member country will have to be obtained.

What is the deadline for ratification?

Countries can ratify at anytime after having signed the Paris Agreement. In fact, 15 countries came to New York with their instruments of ratification ready, and submitted these immediately after signing. These were mainly small island states like Marshall Islands, Barbados, Fiji, Tuvalu and Mauritius which are the most threatened by the impact of climate change. Somalia and Palestine were also among these 15. But these countries together account for just 0.04 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Resources Institute data.

Unlike the signing process, which is open only until April 21, 2017, there is no specific deadline for ratification. It is expected that the dual conditions — minimum 55 countries with at least 55 per cent of global emissions — would be met before the lapse of the Kyoto Protocol in 2020, thereby bringing the Paris Agreement in effect. Countries can keep ratifying and joining the Agreement later as well.

A number of countries, including big emitters like China, the United States, India, Brazil, Canada, Australia and Mexico, have said they plan to ratify the Agreement very soon, possibly this year itself. The European Union and Russia have pledged to immediately initiate the complicated steps towards ratification.

The Paris Agreement will come into force on the 30th day after the two conditions are met.

The Paris Agreement is a global treaty to limit climate change, which was negotiated at the COP-21 Summit in Paris in November-December 2015.

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