Early Entry into Force of the Paris Climate Agreement: G20 Leaders and Laggards

October 7, 2016
Wind and water from Hurricane Matthew batter downtown St. Augustine, Fla., Friday, Oct. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

News about the devastating power of record breaking Hurricane Matthew reaching the Atlantic basin early October, which followed dire news of the atmosphere reaching non-return levels of anthropogenic carbon dioxide concentration in September, brought the very real impacts of climate change back to the center of international attention. Policymakers have often failed to adequately respond to the growing evidence of climate change impacts and risks, but not this time.

As of October 6, 74 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), representing 59 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, have formally joined the Paris Climate Agreement. The Agreement will now enter into force on November 4, marking one of the fastest entry into force processes in the history of international treaty law.  This fast process was possible due to the work of an informal coalition of countries encompassing many of those most vulnerable to climate change impacts, including small island states, and seven out of the fifteen largest greenhouse gas emitters, both developed industrialized democracies as well as emerging economies.

One of the greatest achievements of the Paris Agreement was to reach a previously elusive compromise between developed countries and emerging economies. Emerging economies agreed to assume significant commitments to climate action, while developed countries agreed to continue taking the leadership in the form of economy-wide emissions reductions and guaranteeing minimum of US$100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries. A review of which members of the G20 have supported a fast entry into force of the Paris Agreement, and which have not, illustrates how far the world has moved away from the binary North-South divide that for a long time gridlocked collective action to address global challenges, including climate change.

The European Union and ten country members of the G20  joined the Paris Agreement as of October 5. Half of these ten countries are among G7 advanced industrial democracies: United States, Germany, United Kingdom, France and Canada. The other half are emerging economies members of BRICs - China, India and Brazil – plus Mexico and Argentina. Remarkably absent from this movement towards early entry into force are Japan and Australia.

Japan’s Prime Minister submitted the ratification of the Paris Agreement to a vote during the current Diet session that runs until the end of November, but with no agenda priority. The Paris Agreement vote, expecting no opposition, has taken a back seat to the ratification vote for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement, which is politically controversial in Japan. The Australian committee that advises the Prime Minister on the ratification of international treaties will still accept submissions by interested parties on the ratification by October 7, showing that Australia has also not prioritized early entry into force, as those submissions need to first be analyzed. These are strong indications that both Japan and Australia have not made the political commitment to meet the early entry into force deadline. South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey, South Korea and Russia are among other members of the G20 who have yet to ratify the Paris Agreement.

The picture that emerges is one that confirms the move away from global governance being led primarily by the United States in alliance with a group of advanced industrial democracies. It shows that in climate governance, a new informal alliance among a group of developed countries and emerging economies is moving the process forward, despite the diffidence of half of the members of the G20, developed and emerging economies alike. As the G20 members are jointly responsible for over 74 per cent of global emissions, and dominate both global financial resources and investments in technological research and development, it is extremely important that the climate leaders in the G20 strongly urge the laggards to ratify the Paris Agreement before COP 22 in Marrakesh.

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