Paris in Focus

Next week, on April 22nd, the environment will come under focus as the world celebrates another annual ‘Earth Day’; this one bears more significance than most as world leaders gather at the United Nations in New York to sign the Paris Agreement. As the Paris Agreement will no doubt gain extra media attention next week, we look at the ‘need-to-knows’ of this historic accord.

Haven’t they already agreed?

The signing is the second of three steps before the Paris Agreement takes effect with the first being the adoption of the text by negotiators at COP21. The final stage will be the ratification by individual nations at a later date.

What’s the big deal?

This is set to be the largest single-day signing of an international agreement and represents a monumental diplomatic feat as almost every nation reaches a consensus on the need for concerted efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Didn’t we know that already?

For years there has been overwhelming scientific consensus on the dangers of climate change under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario however political logjams have marred any significant international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The innovative approach to discussions in Paris were widely regarded as being key to achieving successful negotiations.

So what did they actually agree?

The text of the agreement centred around a few key numbers:

  • Limit global warming to 2°C (while aiming for 1.5°C)
  • 189 countries submitted targets in the form of Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) accounting for 99% of global emissions
  • Countries must re-assess their targets every 5 years (from 2023); they cannot lower them and are encouraged to set more ambitious targets over time

The final question is when will it take effect? The agreement needs to be ratified at a national level by 55 countries representing 55% of emissions.  It is possible that enough countries will move it through the approval process for that to happen this year however given the varying domestic approval timelines, 2017 is more likely.

In the meantime, there are constant and growing efforts from businesses, organisations and individuals around the world to reduce their own impact. Progress has been slow to get to where we are now but the pace is accelerating; the more we do, the more we abate the negative impacts of climate change and next Friday will be one step further along the path.

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