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So Paris is (Almost) Law. Now What?

U.S. Department of State/WikimediaCommons
U.S. Department of State/WikimediaCommons

As optimism builds that the Paris Agreement may enter force before its first birthday, the biggest threat to its effective implementation arises less from a possible Donald Trump presidency than from the lack of readiness among states that back the deal, Climate Change News suggests.

The prospects for the United Nations-brokered Paris Agreement cleared one important bar earlier this month when the number of countries that have ratified it topped 55. It is expected to pass the second threshold—ratification from countries representing 55% of global emissions—within weeks, possibly in time to come into force before the December anniversary of last year’s UN climate summit. That would put its terms out of reach of a putative President Trump for at least four years.

It would also trigger the requirement to call a first meeting of signatory states—known in UN-speak as CMA1—to begin implementing the Agreement’s action program. And it appears that few will be ready.

“Talks on how it will work only started in May,” The Guardian notes, “and diplomats face a work load that many assumed they would have five years to complete.” Negotiators are supposed to navigate a “progress track” featuring 135 separate mandated tasks—two dozen of which must be resolved before the parties to the agreement can hold a productive first meeting.

With the EU’s 28 member states preoccupied by Brexit talks, and many smaller nations committed to ambitious goals that are unsupported by detailed plans or resources for their achievement, “it is just simply not realistic to expect everything can be concluded so we can fulfill mandate to CMA1,” said Jo Tyndall, a New Zealand diplomat who is a co-chair of the talks.

The paper identifies four “biggies” among the diplomatic community’s daunting do-list: how to accomplish a review of the Agreement’s targets and plans by 2018; the support to be given to developing countries to turn goals into plans they can implement; the scope of transparency norms; and who will get to write the rules for carbon permit-trading markets.

“The likely outcome,” The Guardian reports, “is that the first official session of the Paris Agreement will be opened and swiftly closed,” accomplishing little of substance.

A more likely date for global action to get off the blocks, suggested French climate envoy Laurence Tubiana, is 2018—the same year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is to report on the risks presented by warming above 1.5°C. That limit was advocated as a goal in Paris, but ultimately rejected in favour of the vaguer one of keeping warming “well below” 2.0ºC.