Milestone moment for Paris Agreement at Climate Week

The UN event in New York this week saw the global climate deal take strides towards becoming law, writes Charlotte Middlehurst

This year’s Climate Week came at a critical time in international climate negotiations with countries on the cusp of ratifying the Paris Agreement and the US presidential elections just seven weeks away.

The annual United Nations (UN) assembly, held in New York, saw 60 countries representing 48% of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) pass one threshold necessary to formerly ratify the Paris climate deal.

On Wednesday, 31 countries of the required 55 signed up including Brazil, the world’s seventh largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Mexico, Argentina, Sri Lanka and the oil-rich United Arab Emirates; as well as smaller island nations, such as Kiribati, and low-lying Bangladesh, which are particularly vulnerable to sea-level rise.

The new signings are significant because they push the Paris Agreement past one of two thresholds needed for it to international become law. In order for the Paris Agreement to become legally binding, the countries that have ratified must also represent a minimum of 55% of global emissions. Therefore, the Agreement still needs ratification from countries that together represent a further 7% of global emissions.

This week’s number of country ratifications also places the climate deal on firm footing in the face of the impending US presidential elections, which could potentially destabilise the future environmental and energy strategy of the world’s second biggest polluter. 

“That the Paris Agreement is on track to break records as the international treaty fastest to become law bodes well as it is a signal that countries just want to get on with it.  But the journey has only begun,” said Liz Gallagher, senior associate of UK energy think tank E3G, adding: “The next test awaits in Rwanda in October where countries must agree to an ambitious timetable to phase down dangerous greenhouse gases, HFCs.”

UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who will step down at the end of the year, predicts that the second threshold will be reached by the end of the year; with other climate watchers saying it will come even sooner, likely before the next major round of UN climate negotiations in Marrakesh (November 7 – 11).

Climate Week, which ran from Monday 19 – Friday 23 September, attracted leaders from the world of business and civil? society who are leading the low carbon transition.

Participants included Ernest Moniz, US secretary of energy; Lisa Jackson, vice president for environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple; and Rachel Kyte, CEO of Sustainable Energy for All and Special Representative of the UN secretary general.

At the talks, business leaders responded to increasing calls from consumers and shareholders for greater efforts from companies to achieve zero emissions value chains.

Bank of America announced that it has joined the RE100 global campaign of businesses committed to 100% renewable electricity that includes Apple, which is led by The Climate Group in partnership with Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP).

 “Climate change is a material risk to business,” said Business for Social Responsibility policy director Edward Cameron in an interview with Environmental Leader. “All of the associated various impacts — changing water distribution patterns, extreme weather events, droughts, storm surges — pose an important material risk inside individual companies, across their supply chains and across the marginalised communities where they operate and rely on for their workforce.”

Towards the close of the conference attention shifted to the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by more than 190 countries last September, which are aimed at tackling climate change and reducing poverty by 2030, among other objectives. If the Paris Agreement is to succeed countries must now make good on these promises.