Paris Agreement comes into force days before COP22 kick off in Morocco

Intro

Today the global climate treaty negotiated by 197 countries in France last year – The Paris Agreement – has been granted the full force of international law, well ahead of all expectations. This treaty’s “entry into force” will shape the way that governments, cities, investors and businesses tackle global warming over the decades to come, and as the last year has shown it is already speeding the transition away from fossil fuels towards clean, sustainable energy systems. The sooner the better for a world that has again notched up another hottest year record, but also for human health given vast populations are suffering right now from air pollution, the world’s greatest environmental health risk, and increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

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Key Points

  • The Paris Agreement entering into force in time for next week’s UN climate conference is political recognition of a change that is already well underway. The clean energy transition is not just well underway, it’s unstoppable and accelerating. Legally locking-in the Paris Agreement with almost unprecedented speed is yet another strong signal to business and investors that have moved into clean, sustainable models that they did the right thing. In the last 18 months alone we have passed critical political milestones; from the delivery of a climate-friendly development agenda to a groundbreaking deal on short-lived climate pollutants, and in real-terms the global rate of decarbonisation has doubled. Now even oil majors are seeking to back renewable energy in a cynical or possibly desperate roll of the dice as they know they are trapped on the wrong side of history.
  • Countries have agreed to act, and must do so increasingly fast given the UN has again warned our planet remains on the road to more than 3DegC of warming. Boosting national climate actions and filling gaps in the finance deal that rich countries have put on the table to support the poorest are key points for negotiators at COP22 in Morocco. This is no time for the EU to cut policy support for renewables, for the US to trample human rights in the name of dirty pipeline construction, or for Australia to continue abrogating its responsibilities on emissions reductions and coal. Countries have to build on the platform of the Paris Agreement and a good way to start would be to kick polluters, like the World Coal Association, out of the UN climate negotiations for good.
  • Accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels is the only way to prevent a global children’s health crisis and ‘an avoidable human tragedy’. The last week has offered some serious evidence of the physical dangers posed by a fossil-powered economy. As choking smog suffocated Diwali celebrations in India and 33 workers tragically lost their lives in a coal mine in China, news broke that air pollution is responsible for the deaths of 600,000 children under the age of five annually, and 300 million children around the world are living in areas subject to extreme levels of toxic fumes. The World Health Organisation and UNICEF have now thrown their weight behind the renewable energy transition that if scaled up could save 100,000 lives a year in China, create 470,000 clean jobs in the US and save the EU $33billion a year in dirty energy imports.

Background

Countries have demonstrated remarkable speed in ratifying the Paris Agreement and turning it into law, much earlier than was anticipated. The challenge for Governments now is to use this collective momentum to cement needed actions, and a golden opportunity awaits at the UN climate negotiations set to kick off next week in Marrakech.

Morocco, hosts of the talks, is transforming itself into a renewable energy leader, and is already reaping large savings on fossil fuel imports, invigorating its economy, enhancing the quality of life in rural communities, and helping to tackle climate change.

For the first time countries that are party to the Paris Agreement/new global climate treaty will meet to start writing the rulebook that will guide the international community to a future safe from dangerous climate change. They have a ‘good problem’ on their hands, as so many countries enshrined the Agreement in national law so quickly.

The Paris Agreement outlines a regular, clear and mandatory process for countries to incrementally increase and strengthen their climate actions every five years. COP22 must outline clear expectations on how countries will increase ambition by 2020. Countries should submit their long-term strategies which should be tied to sustainable development goals and national planning. These plans are crucial to unlock new investment opportunities and redirect finance into climate-friendly initiatives.  

The issue of finance remains sticky, as while a roadmap to 100 billion has been delivered ahead of the negotiations – another sign of political momentum – there are still some significant gaps. Rich countries can help bridge some of these in Marrakech by committing to double climate finance to help communities adapt to the ongoing impacts of global warming. They also need to close some loopholes to ensure that all climate finance is additional to, not a diversion of, development aid and that accounting methods are clear and transparent.

Loss and damage also remains a key issue, reaffirming the need for a 1.5DegC goal and addressing the needs of the most vulnerable. The impacts of climate change are being felt by the poorest communities, in particular small island nations and other tropical coastal countries whose very existence is under threat. Decisive action and explicit commitments on ratcheting up ambition are needed now in order to limit warming to 1.5DegC – a target strongly supported by faith groups who will deliver an interfaith statement to the COP presidency during the negotiations.

Human health is also once again a key issue in the air around the negotiations, with landmark reports out this week showing air pollution is responsible for the deaths of 600,000 children under the age of five annually, and that 300 million children around the world are living in areas subject to extreme levels of toxic fumes. This shocking reality comes as choking smog suffocated Diwali celebrations in India and 33 workers tragically lost their lives in a coal mine in China, highlighting the need for greater speed in the shift away from fossil fuels, whose entire life cycle – from mining to burning – drives so much misery and loss of life. If scaled up, the renewable energy transition could save 100,000 lives a year in China, create 470,000 clean jobs in the US and save the EU $33billion a year in dirty energy imports.

but this puts all Governments on notice that dangerous emissions from dirty energy sources such as coal-fired power stations cannot continue unabated.

Despite 2016 notching up another hottest year record, current plans on the table for COP22 will see the world warm by more than 3DegC average, demonstrating that while 87 countries responsible for more than 63 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions have signed on to the Paris Agreement, far more needs to be done to reduce the influence of fossil fuel companies and speed up decarbonisation efforts.

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KEY QUOTES

  • “The Paris agreement is undoubtedly a turning point in the history of common human endeavour, capturing the combined political, economic and social will of governments, cities, regions and businesses and investors to overcome the existential threat of unchecked climate change. This is a moment to celebrate. It is also a moment to look ahead with sober assessment and renewed will over the task ahead.” – Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s climate chief, and Salaheddine Mezouar, foreign minister of Morocco (joint statement) 
  • “The rapid ratification of the Paris Agreement means that the wind is in the sails for climate action – and for better health. What is needed now are clear deadlines from each government on the phasing out of fossil fuels – a major contributor to climate change and air pollution. Taking this action will unlock multiple benefits for people’s health and well-being everywhere. For example, air pollution from coal power plants is responsible for 22,900 premature deaths each year in Europe alone. At COP22, by setting in stone plans to phase out fossil fuels governments will be demonstrating both a commitment to the Paris Agreement and to better public health everywhere.” – Genon K. Jensen, Executive Director, Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) 
  • “The Paris Agreement is a momentous achievement, but this is just the beginning. Bold, urgent actions by governments will ensure these are not empty promises that cost human lives. The UK health profession urges the UK Government to protect the health of the British population by making good on its promise to phase out coal by 2025, but ensuring that energy policies are both sustainable and promote health are essential for all governments to meet goals set out by the Paris Agreement.” – Director, UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, Dr Nick Watts 
  • “Post Paris-agreement’s clear signal for a low-carbon society offers enormous gains for health, be they from cleaner air, active transport, or healthier food systems.  Actions on climate change are absolutely actions for global health, and ultimately could amass to be the greatest health opportunity of the century.” – Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, Director, Global Health Institute, University of Wisconsin-Madison 
  • “The entry into force of the Paris Agreement is a clear and positive signal that the world has started an unstoppable transition away from fossil fuels. The question is if world leaders will have the moral courage to make this transition happen at lightning speed as requested by climate scientists. Catholics join Pope Francis in demanding that the Paris Agreement’s nice words be turned into courageous decisions to protect our common home, the Earth, and the poorest who are suffering the worst impacts of the climate crisis. The latest round of negotiations in Morocco next week provide a perfect opportunity for governments to do this, providing clarity on their pre-2020 actions and drafting their longer-term 2050 plans.” – Tomás Insua, Executive Director, The Global Catholic Climate Movement 
  • “The Paris agreement sends a much-needed signal to politicians and industry that we have to build a new world, and this has to start now.” – Harjeet Singh, global lead on climate change at ActionAid 
  • “If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy. The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver.” – Erik Solheim, head of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) 
  • “Governments have completed the paperwork, now the real work begins. The only way to meet the 1.5°C or even just the 2°C target under the Paris agreement is to keep fossil fuels in the ground. The Paris agreement means that we cannot have any new coal, oil or gas projects. In fact, we need to start phasing out existing fossil fuel operations across Europe now.” – Nicolò Wojewoda, 350.org

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