China and the US to ratify the Paris deal ahead of G20

The world’s two biggest polluters will increase pressure on other nations to follow suit

China and the US are expected to officially commit to the Paris climate change agreement this weekend during President Obama’s trip to the G20 summit, held in the south-eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou.

The move adds the weight of the world’s two biggest CO2 (carbon dioxide) emitters to the climate pact, while putting pressure on other nations to accelerate their domestic ratification processes.

The decision to ratify at the annual meeting of the world’s biggest economies will silence sceptics of the deal within the US political establishment, as well as safeguarding it against future political risks, most imminently the country's presidential election on November 8.

By jointly delivering on their commitment to the Paris agreement, which aims to limit global warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels, the leaders of China and the US further consolidate a newfound, mutual cooperation being built around climate change policy.

It also helps to cement president Obama’s legacy as a climate change hero two months before he steps down from two terms in office.

The exact timing of the announcement is uncertain and negotiations between the two countries are ongoing, reported Politico.

The breakthrough agreement reached in Paris will likely come into force by the end of the year.

Fifty-five countries accounting for more than 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) need to formally ratify the accord before it can become bound by international law.

As of September 1, 180 countries had signed the Paris text and of these, 24 had deposited their instruments of ratification to the UN, accounting for only 1.08% of total global GHGs. (See our blog for more details on the ratification process).

However, US and China together comprise 40% of the world’s emissions, moving the deal much closer towards its goal. But for the agreement to enter into force by the Marrakesh COP22 in November, both thresholds will need to be crossed by 7 October. 

The announcement comes three weeks after Brazil, the world’s sixth biggest carbon emitter, formally announced that its Senate had passed the agreement. Meanwhile, small island developing states have been quick to step forward, such as the Marshall Islands and the Maldives.

Early ratification will allow countries to hedge against some of the pressing political risks the world now faces; most immediately the US presidential elections.

Republican candidate Donald Trump has become a mouthpiece for climate deniers and American gas and oil interests, who question the validity of the agreement’s terms and the sincerity of its partner states.

The real estate tycoon, who once tweeted: “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive”, told Fox News earlier this year that “China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything they could burn; they couldn’t care less… In the meantime, they undercut us in price.”

A 66-page document released at the Republican Party convention in July, titled the "Republican Platform", asserts that coal is a "clean" energy source and promises to defend the mining industry from a pervasive "radical anti-coal agenda". 

Once the agreement enters into force, Parties can’t withdraw for at least four years.

Countries will also need to show resolve in negotiating an ambitious outcome at a high-level meeting on the Montreal Protocol in Kigali, Rwanda on October 8-14. The gathering will be a test for Parties as they work together to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), highly potent greenhouse gases that, if unchecked, could wipe out progress made on carbon savings  elsewhere.

The goal for all Parties now is to accelerate their ambitions and outline a roadmap to 2020.

For up-to-date information on which countries have signed see the WRI's Paris ratification tracker.