Paris climate agreement takes effect

The global climate accord adopted in Paris last December came into force today, Friday. The landmark agreement calls for global warming to be limited to well below 2 degrees Celsius. But some argue that the CO2 reductions do not go far enough and the climate target could be missed absent a complete change of direction. Elke Bunge reports.

The Paris climate agreement entered into force today. But many warn that the 2C goal is not ambitious enough to prevent climate change. (Image credit: gckwolfe, flickr/Creative Commons)

The Paris climate agreement entered into force today. But many warn that the 2C goal is not ambitious enough to prevent climate change. (Image credit: gckwolfe, flickr/Creative Commons)

There was an astonishingly short period of time between the approval of the Paris climate agreement in December 2015 and its entry into force on 4 November: the global community is clearly under pressure to stop climate change. If it is committed to stopping climate change in its entirety, nations must act now.

US and China led the way

84 countries came to the same conclusion and ratified the global climate accord before the end of October.

The US and China, the world’s two largest emitters, had ratified the agreement in early September.

At the beginning of October, the EU parliament then ratified the agreement; the 28 member states of the European Union are responsible for 12 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

With the EU ratification, the threshold for entry into force of the agreement was met: at least 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions had to deposit their instruments of ratification.

After 30 days, the agreement has now entered into force.

Beginning on Monday, the countries that signed the Paris agreement are meeting at the Marrakech climate conference in Morocco. The follow-up meeting to Paris is tasked with working out and resolving the practical steps needed to implement the goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Target set too low

Climate researchers are already warning that the agreed-upon goal could very well be too low. Calculations show that the 2-degree mark is likely not enough to stop climate change and it would be urgently necessary to change direction and restrict warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

But politicians and economists are at a loss as to how this could actually be achieved. It would seem like industrialised nations have good intentions but lack the legal as well as practical measures to actually implement them.

For instance, the US and China want to reduce their carbon emissions by 2050 by 60 to 80 per cent over 2005 levels. Europe, by contrast, intends to reduce its emissions by 2030 by 40 per cent over 1990 levels.

Therein lies one of the agreement’s weak points: although the declarations of intent of the nations upon ratification are binding commitments under international law, there is as yet no international means of enforcing them in the individual countries. It remains up to the respective national governments to fulfil these obligations.

The announcement of the Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump that he would back out of the Paris climate agreement if elected is just the extreme negative end of the scale of possible decisions.

Environment at risk with 2C warming

A recent study on the Mediterranean habitat shows the 2-degree Celsius goal of the Paris climate agreement will not be enough to prevent serious environmental damage. The study by the Observatoire des Sciences de l’Univers Pytheas Institute and ECCOREV reveals that in the event that global temperatures rise by ‘only’ 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, Mediterranean vegetation would disappear, desert areas would expand northwards and adverse weather conditions would increase sharply.

Climate experts from the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace have reached similar conclusions, and the executive director of Greenpeace International, Jennifer Morgan, warns that we have only a small window of action: a drastic reduction of greenhouse gas emissions coupled with abandoning the use of fossil fuels is the only way to prevent climate change.

Greenpeace is calling on delegates to Marrakech to be aware of this dire situation and take effective action next week if the Paris agreement is to have any meaningful impact.

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