Climate protection faces many obstacles

The Paris climate agreement is almost certain to come into effect now that 55 countries have ratified it. But on-going oil, gas and coal extraction are enough to drive global warming well beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, warns a new study. John Dyer reports from Boston.

The Paris climate agreement is expected to come into force by the end of this year. But climate protection still faces a number of hurdles. (Image credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

The Paris climate agreement is expected to come into force by the end of this year. But climate protection still faces a number of hurdles. (Image credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

The Paris Climate Change Agreement cleared major hurdles at the United Nations in New York City on Wednesday now that 55 countries responsible for 48 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions have ratified the accord.

In force by the end of the year

“This is an extraordinary momentum by nations and a clear signal of their determination to implement Paris now and raise ambition over the decades to come,” said Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Under the deal, governments are seeking to keep global temperature increases to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Developed countries are slated to pay USD 100 billion to developing countries to help them reach their reductions.

The agreement will only come into force when the countries that have ratified it are responsible for a total of 55 per cent of global emissions. A handful of countries representing an additional 12 per cent of global emissions also said on Wednesday that they would finalise their participation in the accord before the end of the year, making it a near-certain that the Paris agreement will become international law.

“I am confident that, by the time I leave office, the Paris Agreement will have entered into force,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “This will be a major achievement for multilateralism.”

“Lethal capital injection”

But even as the agreement moved closer to entering into force, Ban and others raised alarms about climate change deniers and evidence that greenhouse gases were still on track reaching critical limits.

“The remarkable support for this agreement reflects the urgency and magnitude of the challenge. Emissions continue to rise. So does the global thermostat – and the risks,” said the secretary-general.

Britain-based Oil Change International released a report on Thursday claiming that temperatures would rise by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius if energy companies exploited all the oil, gas and coal that’s currently accessible in drilling wells and other facilities that are now operational.

“If the world is serious about achieving the goals agreed in Paris, governments have to stop the expansion of the fossil fuel industry,” said Oil Change International Executive Director Stephen Kretzmann. “The industry has enough carbon in the pipeline – today – to break through the sky’s limit.”

The group called on the UN and other governments to stop the energy industry from spending a projected USD 14 trillion on new fields, mines and transportation infrastructure in the next 20 years, calling the new spending “a lethal capital injection.”

US climate plan faces legal challenges

Europe has made the most progress in achieving the accord’s goals so far. But the forecast is less optimistic in other regions.

In the US, energy companies and state officials have filed lawsuits against President Barack Obama’s plan to shut down polluting power plants, a key part of the US’s plan to comply with the Paris Accord. The U.S. Supreme Court is now considering the issue.

And it’s not clear if the U.S. presidential election will change the situation all that much.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and much of his party’s majority in Congress believe climate change is hoax.

In a bid to steal votes from Trump, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has dropped the term “climate change” from her campaign speeches and instead discusses how she wants the US to be a “clean energy superpower.”

“It’s not a core issue for her,” said Robert Stavins, director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program. While Clinton has promised to build 500 million solar panels, she has never addressed actively shutting down the fossil fuel side.

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