Kazakhstan, Zambia, Cuba, Kenya join Paris Agreement

Four more nations ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change in December, bringing the number that have done so to 121.

Kazhakstan notified the United Nations of its formal adoption of the accord on Dec. 6.

Zambia was next, formally agreeing to the Paris Agreement on Dec. 9.

Cuba and Kenya ratified the landmark Dec. 2015 international agreement on Dec. 28.

The Paris Agreement took effect Nov. 4, 2016. Adopting nations agree to prepare Nationally Determined Contributions to the reduction of atmospheric greenhouse gases.

Trump, in NYT interview, appears to backtrack on promise to exit Paris Agreement

President-elect Donald J. Trump may be re-thinking his earlier statements that promised a U.S. exit from the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During a Tuesday interview with reporters and editors at the New York Times, Trump said that he has an “open mind” about the landmark international deal to address accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

I’m looking at it very closely,” the New York real estate developer and reality TV star said in the interview.

Some foreign leaders have pushed back in response to Trump’s earlier comments.

China’s leading negotiator on climate change issues, Xie Zhenhua, criticized the President-elect before the general election occurred.

Zhenhua told Reuters on Nov. 1 that “a wise political leader should take policy stances that conform with global trends.”

Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, has also cautioned Trump about any hasty repudiation of the Paris Agreement. In an editorial co-authored with President Barack Obama and published in the German newspaper Wirtschaftswoche, Merkel emphasized that  American cooperation with its allies is crucial to both domestic and international prosperity.

“Today we find ourselves at a crossroads—the future is upon us, and we will never return to a pre-globalization economy,” Merkel and Obama wrote. “Germans and Americans we must seize the opportunity to shape globalization based on our values and our ideas. We owe it to our industries and our peoples—indeed, to the global community—to broaden and deepen our cooperation.”

Several hundred corporations and significant investors have also taken Trump to task for his expressed willingness to scuttle the Paris Agreement. An open letter released earlier this month urged Trump to consider that the the deal could well lead to “trillions” of dollars in profit as the world undergoes an energy transformation.

“We want the US economy to be energy efficient and powered by low-carbon energy,” the statement said. “Cost-effective and innovative solutions can help us achieve these objectives. Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk. But the right action now will create jobs and boost US competitiveness.”

The Paris Agreement, which was finalized in Dec. 2015, is not a treaty. As an executive agreement between the U.S. President and the leaders of other nations, it did not require ratification by the U.S. Senate. A future President can lawfully terminate the agreement anytime he or she desires to do so.

 

Paris Agreement takes effect; American presidential winner casts shadow over international effort to fight climate change

The Paris Agreement on climate change took effect on Nov. 4, days before American voters elected as their President a candidate who has promised to abandon the nation’s commitment to fighting climate change.

According to a press release issued by the United Nations on Nov. 5, the accord has become operative faster than any other recent international agreement.

“The speed at which countries have made the Paris’s Agreement’s entry into force possible is unprecedented in recent experience of international agreements and is a powerful confirmation of the importance nations attach to combating climate change and realizing the multitude of opportunities inherent in the Paris Agreement,” Patricia Espinosa, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said in a statement.

The agreement, which was reached last December, could not begin to bind the nations that developed it until thirty days from the date on which the number of countries to ratify it reached 55 and the amount of greenhouse gas emissions accounted for by the ratifying countries reached 55 percent of the worldwide total.

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Nations that are parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are meeting this month in Morocco.

Parties to the UNFCCC are now gathered for their 22nd annual meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco to establish a governing body that will oversee implementation of the Paris Agreement and rules to guide nations in their compliance with it.

The Paris Agreement does not limit national greenhouse gas emissions. Instead, it requires signatory nations to specify Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. INDCs are used to detail each country’s effort to limit the atmospheric temperature increase caused by human activities to less than 2 degrees Celsius. Nations that do not meet their INDC obligation are not penalized.

Since the accord took effect, uncertainty about its future has increased around the world in the aftermath of the U.S. election. Although he did not win the majority of votes cast by Americans, New York real estate developer and reality TV star Donald J. Trump will become the nation’s chief executive because he carried a majority of the state-based votes that will be cast in the country’s archaic Electoral College.

Trump defeated former secretary of state and senator Hillary Clinton, along with a slew of minor party candidates including Libertarian former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein, to capture the presidency.

Trump’s comments during the long political campaign leading up to the election indicated that the United States may abandon the Paris Agreement. Trump said in May that he would “cancel” the American commitment to it.

Earlier statements by the Republican businessman, who has no political experience, also indicate that there is a risk that the country which emits the most greenhouse gases might quit the effort to limit them. Trump has said, for example, that he believes climate change is a “hoax” developed and encouraged by China.

Since his election on Nov. 8 Trump has made no public comments about his plans for continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement. However, he has chosen a well-known climate science denier, Myron Ebell of the libertarian advocacy group Competitive Enterprise Institute, to manage the transition of personnel and policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Trump has also indicated that he is considering several oil executives and at least one politician who is adamantly in favor of increasing American fossil fuel production to lead the U.S. Department of Interior, which regulates energy exploration and extraction on public lands and on the continental shelf.

The United States cannot formally leave the Paris Agreement for four years, according to its terms. However, Trump has a number of options for limiting or preventing its impact on the country’s fossil fuel extraction and use. He could, for example, re-characterize the deal as a treaty and submit it to the U.S. Senate, controlled by Republicans, for ratification. Ratification would be unlikely. Trump could, if he desired to land a stronger blow against international climate change diplomacy, pull the United States out of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He could also simply ignore the INDCs agreed to by the administration of President Barack Obama, a path that would result in little tangible consequence for the U.S. other than international condemnation.

A Reuters report published Saturday indicates that Trump has not backed down from his stated desire to abandon the Paris Agreement. The article, citing anonymous sources close to the president-elect, said that Trump will move quickly to terminate any American commitment to international climate change policy and programs.

Other nations have continued to act in support of the Paris Agreement since its Nov. 4 effective date.

Australia announced Thursday that it had ratified the accord, joining 108 other nations that have done so.

The country’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said at a press conference that Australia expects to meet its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent by 2030.

“Almost a year from the Paris Conference, it is clear the agreement was a watershed, a turning point,” he said. “The adoption of a comprehensive strategy has galvanised the international community and spurred on global action.”

“As you know, we are playing our part with ambitious targets. We are on track to meet and indeed beat our 2020 targets. We will review our climate and energy policies next year to ensure that we meet, as we believe we will and are committed to do, to meet our 2030 targets under the agreement.”

Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, and Italy ratified the Paris Agreement on Nov. 11, Pakistan ratified it on Nov. 10, Japan on Nov. 8, and Gambia on Nov. 7.

Those national decisions followed a string of other ratifications earlier in November: Denmark, Estonia, Gabon, Ireland, Jordan,  Luxembourg, South Korea, Sao Tome and Princepe, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Vietnam all adopted it during the first week of the month.

Eighty-eight countries that are parties to the December 2015 agreement have not yet decided whether to formally adopt it.

 

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The European Parliament meets at the Louise Weiss Building in Strasbourg, France.
Image courtesy Wikimedia, photo by Ralf Roletschek.

The European Union is now on the verge of ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change as the alliance’s 751-member parliament approved the accord on Tuesday.

The EU nations account for about 12 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Once EU ratification is formally communicated to the United Nations, the last requirement for the Paris Agreement to take effect will have been met because nations responsible for more than 63 percent of the planet’s emissions of atmosphere-warming gases will have accepted it.

At least 55 nations that are responsible for at least 55 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions must ratify, adopt, accept, or accede to the Paris Agreement before it commences to bind signatory countries.

“Our vote paves the way to ensure that the agreement meets the necessary threshold,” EU Parliament president Martin Schulz said in a statement. “The entry into force of the Paris agreement less than one year after its signature is a massive achievement, given that it took eight years for the Kyoto protocol.”

The Council of the European Union must formally approve the Paris Agreement before an instrument of ratification can be submitted to the UN. That submission is expected to occur by Friday.

Once it does so, a 30-day clock until the climate deal takes effect will commence running. If the EU submits its ratification to the UN by Friday, then the Paris Agreement will go into effect before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8.

Several individual EU members have also ratified the climate deal, including Austria, France, Germany, Malta, Portugal, and Slovakia.

New Zealand also ratified the Paris Agreement on Tuesday, raising to 63 the number of countries that have done so.

UPDATE, Oct. 5, 2016, 11:49 pm MDT:

Canada and Nepal ratified the Paris Agreement on Wednesday, which means that 73 nations that account for more than 57 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions have done so.

United Nations secretary-general Ban-Ki Moon said that the accord will take effect on Nov. 4.

“Global momentum for the Paris Agreement to enter into force in 2016 has been remarkable,” he said. “What once seemed unthinkable is now unstoppable.”

“Strong international support for the Paris Agreement entering into force is testament to the urgency for action, and reflects the consensus of Governments that robust global cooperation is essential to meet the climate challenge.”

President Barack Obama also hailed the events.

“Today, the world meets the moment,” he said in comments delivered in the White House Rose Garden. “And if we follow through on the commitments that this agreement embodies, history may well judge it as a turning point for our planet.”

 

India ratifies Paris Agreement

India’s Union Cabinet approved the Paris Agreement on climate change Wednesday, sending a strong signal that the south Asia power will act soon to join sixty-one other nations that have formally signed on to the December 2015 accord.

The Times of India reported that India will submit its ratification to the United Nations on Oct. 2.

Narendra Modi, the country’s prime minister, announced Sept. 26 that India wants to ratify the Paris Agreement on that date because it is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.

The country will become the sixty-second in the world to adopt or ratify the Paris Agreement. But the accord is not likely to take effect until additional nations formally adopt it. Nations that account for 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, along with at least 55 nations in total, have to accede to the agreement before it becomes operative.

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The Ramagundan Super Thermal Power Station in Telangana, India is one of the country’s many coal-fired power plants. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

India obtains most of its electricity from coal combustion and is responsible for 4.1 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. Its joinder of the Paris Agreement will mean that nations that cause about 51.89 percent of the planet’s atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution will have signed on.

Environment ministers representing the European Union nations are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss ratification of the Paris Agreement.

Mali became the sixty-first country to adopt the Paris Agreement on Sept. 23.

 

 

Thirty-one more countries ratify Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement on climate change took a big step toward becoming effective Wednesday as two and one-half dozen more countries signed on.

Sixty nations have now ratified the Dec. 2015 accord, five more than the minimum needed, but they account for only 47.76 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement will take effect only when countries representing at least 55 percent of greenhouse gas emissions join it.

“What seemed at one time impossible is now inevitable,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. “I am confident by the time I leave office (on Dec. 31), the Paris agreement will have entered into force.”

The Paris Agreement aims to keep warming of the atmosphere to an amount below 2 degrees Celsius. Each country is to develop a reduction in the greenhouse gas emissions produced by its economy.

The countries that acted formally Wednesday to signal intent to comply with the Paris Agreement included Albania, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Bangladesh, Belarus, Brazil, Brunei, Dominica, Ghana, Guinea, Honduras, Iceland, Kiribati, Madagascar, Mexico, Mongolia, Morocco,  Namibia, Niger, Papua New Guinea, Senegal, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Thailand, Tonga, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, and Vanuatu.

Ukraine ratified the Paris Agreement on Sept. 19, while Micronesia indicated its acceptance on Sept. 15.

The period in which countries can ratify, adopt, or accept the Paris Agreement ends on Apr. 17, 2017.

Brazil, Panama join Paris climate agreement

The Paris climate agreement is getting closer to taking effect as two Latin American nations are on the verge of adopting it.

Brazil and Panama completed their internal ratification processes on Sept. 12, according to a report published by Climate Change Policy & Practice.

They are the 28th and 29th countries to indicate acceptance of the Paris Agreement, which can take effect only after 55 nations that represent 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratify it.

Brazil is the world’s seventh-largest contributor to atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution, contributing 2.48 percent of the planet’s emissions.

Panama is a much less significant contributor to anthropogenic climate change. The Central American nation is responsible for about 0.03 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

The addition of the two countries means that nations that emit more than 40 percent of worldwide greenhouse emissions have formally entered the agreement.

United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon announced July 18 that he will convene a ” High-Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change” in New York on Sept. 21. Countries will be afforded the opportunity at the event to formally indicate their participation in the Paris Agreement.

 

 

China, U.S. formally enter into Paris climate change agreement

Obama signature on Paris Agreement document, Sept. 3, 2016
President Barack Obama signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of the United States on Aug. 29, 2016. Photo courtesy The White House.

President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, announced Saturday in Hangzhou that the world’s two leading greenhouse gas emitters have formally acceded to the terms of last year’s Paris Agreement on climate change.

The two nations account for 40 percent of the planet’s atmosphere-warming pollution. Obama pointed to the action Saturday as a key step in assuring that the 195 country-strong deal reached last December in France does lead to an effective response to climate change.

“We have a saying in America — that you need to put your money where your mouth is. And when it comes to combating climate change, that’s what we’re doing, both the United States and China. We’re leading by example. As the world’s two largest economies and two largest emitters, our entrance into this agreement continues the momentum of Paris, and should give the rest of the world confidence –- whether developed or developing countries -– that a low-carbon future is where the world is heading.”

Nations were able to sign the Paris Agreement starting on Earth Day of this year. The Paris Agreement will take effect only when 55 countries that represent 55 percent of all GHG emissions on Earth ratify, accept, approve, or accede to it.

With the acceptance by both China and the U.S., 179 nations and the European Union have indicated approval, but only 26 have ratified it. The ratifying nations account for about 39 percent of planetary GHG emissions.

NATION CONTINENT RATIFICATION DATE
Bahamas, The Aug. 22, 2016
Barbados Apr. 22, 2016
Belize North America Apr. 22, 2016
Cameroon Africa Jul. 29, 2016
China Asia Sept. 3, 2016
Cook Islands Oceania Sept. 1, 2016
Fiji Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Grenada Apr. 22, 2016
Guyana South America May 20, 2016
Maldives Asia Apr. 22, 2016
Marshall Islands Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Mauritius Africa Apr. 22, 2016
Nauru Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
North Korea Asia Aug. 1, 2016
Norway Europe Jun. 20, 2016
Palau Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Palestine Asia Apr. 22, 2016
Peru South America Jul. 25, 2016
Saint Kitts and Nevis Apr. 22, 2016
Saint Lucia Apr. 22, 2016
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Jun. 29, 2016
Samoa Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
Seychelles Apr. 29, 2016
Somalia Africa Apr. 22, 2016
Tuvalu Oceania Apr. 22, 2016
United States of America North America Sept. 3, 2016

The Paris Agreement was reached at the 21st Gathering of the Parties of the UNFCCC. As the first international agreement aimed at limiting the warming of the planet’s atmosphere and oceans now underway as a result of human exploitation of fossil fuels, the Paris Agreement does not require any specific actions by nations to reduce GHG emissions.

Instead, the accord is aspirational. As the United Nations assistant secretary-general for climate change told CBS News last December, it is a plan that aims to “name and encourage” the nations who fail to meet commitments to reduce GHG emissions.

Those commitments, known as “nationally determined contributions,” are to be “ambitious” and “represent a progression over time.” The content of NDCs are to be established “with a view to achieving the purpose of the [Paris Agreement].”

The core of the Paris Agreement is the specification of climate change-related objectives:

“(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

“(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; [and]

“(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”

During the first half of this year the average worldwide temperature was about 1.3 degrees Celsius above that recorded in 1880. Moreover, a study published in Nature on June 30 concluded that all of the NDCs in place so far would not lead to warming of less than 2 degrees Celsius.

 

 

 

 

 

Conservation congress begins in Hawaii

IUCN World Congress 2016 logo.png

A quadrennial gathering of government leaders and civic activists aimed at developing an agenda for environmental protection got underway in Hawaii Wednesday and President Barack Obama was in Honolulu to welcome the event to the United States.

More than 8,300 delegates are participating in the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Congress. They represent 184 countries.

They are expected to focus on four key priorities: climate change, ocean conservation, private investment in conservation activities, and wildlife trafficking.

Obama put the spotlight on climate change during his address Wednesday to the Pacific Islands Conference of Leaders, which is also happening in Honolulu:

“When it comes to climate change, there is a dire possibility of us getting off course, and we can’t allow that to happen. That’s why our united efforts are so important. Government has a role to play, but so do scientists and inventors and investors, all working to revolutionize clean energy production. Entrepreneurs and academics and leaders in this room are collaborating across continents. And everyday citizens of the world are going to have to push their own communities to adopt smarter practices, and to push those of us in positions of power to be less concerned with special interests and more concerned about the judgment of future generations.”

The first full day of events  will occur on Friday. Among them will be a press conference that discusses the findings of the Great Elephant Census, a project that counted 93 percent of all elephants in Africa.

The GEC found that far fewer African elephants than previously thought are roaming the continent, with only about 352,000 remaining in all African countries covered by the study. That represents an estimated 30 percent decline between 2007 and 2014.

Other events will highlight updates to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, report on the extent to which the planet’s oceans are warming, and name new Marine Hope Spots.

The latter are areas of the oceans designated by the conservation advocacy organization Mission Blue as being particularly needful or worthy of protection. The concept was proposed by oceanographer Sylvia Earle in a 2009 TED talk.

According to a description of the program posted on the Mission Blue website, Marine Hope Spots are those that exhibit:

  • Particular populations of rare, threatened or endemic species
  • A site with potential to reverse damage from negative human impacts
  • Spectacles of nature, e.g., major migration corridors or spawning grounds
  • Significant historical, cultural or spiritual values
  • Particular economic importance to the community

Delegates are also expected to vote on a number of motions aimed at putting the IUCN World Congress on record in support of particular policies. Those are expected to include a plea for all nations close domestic markets to ivory, increase protection for pangolin species, improve forest conservation practices, and work toward improvements in the system for preserving biological diversity outside of national borders.

The last IUCN World Congress was held in 2012 on Jeju Island, South Korea.

Obama talks conservation in Nevada and Hawaii

President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday about the virtues of conservation before audiences at Lake Tahoe and in Honolulu, emphasizing the connection to fighting climate change and highlighting its benefits to wildlife and people.

Addressing the annual Lake Tahoe Summit, the chief executive explained that public policies aimed at conserving land and waters are essential to the entire range of Earth’s biodiversity.

“Conservation is critical not just for one particular spot, one particular park, one particular lake,” Obama said. “It’s critical for our entire ecosystem.”

The President told the audience that there is no doubt that human activities are causing the planet’s climate to change and, later in the speech, bluntly warned that any meaningful effort to address climate change must include preservation programs:

“A changing climate threatens even the best conservation efforts. Keep in mind, 2014 was the warmest year on record until, you guessed it, 2015. And now 2016 is on pace to be even hotter. For 14 months in a row now, the Earth has broken global temperature records. And because climate and conservation are challenges that go hand in hand, our conservation mission is more urgent than ever.”

Obama addressed the twentieth annual gathering of federal, state, and local leaders involved in ongoing efforts to protect Lake Tahoe’s water quality and aquatic life.

Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe - photo courtesy Wikimedia
Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay is shown in this photograph. Image courtesy Wikimedia.

The lake, which is the largest alpine lake and second deepest lake in the nation, is warming rapidly as greenhouse gas emissions accumulate in the atmosphere. According to a report released by the University of California, Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center, during 2015 Lake Tahoe’s surface reached a temperature higher than at any time in recorded history.

Water at greater depths is also warming as fast as 15 times greater than the historic norm and only about 6.5 percent of precipitation in the 6,000 foot-plus elevation Lake Tahoe ecosystem now falls in the form of snow.

Since the first Lake Tahoe Summit in 1997, governments have spent more than $1.8 billion on projects aimed at restoring wetlands, building transportation infrastructure, improving roads to reduce carriage of polluted runoff into the lake, and lower wildfire risks in the national forest that surrounds the lake.

The administration announced Wednesday that the administration would invest more than $29 million more into Lake Tahoe-related conservation efforts during the coming fiscal year.

A fact sheet released by the  White House said that the money would finance ongoing programs to reduce the number of dead and dying trees to reduce the likelihood of wildfire and improve stormwater systems.

In addition, the National Forest Foundation will pump at least $4 million into efforts to restore watersheds and assure that recreational activities are consistent with the region’s ecological health.

The administration also announced a draft of a compensatory mitigation policy that would allow individuals and entities to trade habitat for endangered and threatened species for credits that could be sold to developers.

The tool, called a habitat exchange, has been used in efforts to conserve a number of imperiled species. They include the monarch butterfly, greater sage grouse, and lesser prairie chicken.

“By adding habitat exchanges to the suite of preferred mitigation solutions, the Service is providing a foundational step to unleash the untapped potential of America’s working lands – its farms, ranches and forests – to reverse habitat loss and stop the extinction crisis,” Eric Holst, an associate vice president at Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement.

Later in the day Obama spoke to leaders of Pacific Rim nations attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature World Congress in Hawaii.

His address there took on a personal tone. The President emphasized the need for a unified approach to climate change policy.

“When it comes to climate change, there is a dire possibility of us getting off course, and we can’t allow that to happen,” Obama said. “That’s why our united efforts are so important.”

Referring to the convention facility in Honolulu, he also spoke of his personal ties to Hawaii:

“[F]or me, this is especially meaningful. I was telling my staff, a lot of my life started about a mile from around here. My mother and father met probably a couple hundred yards from here. It’s true. I went to school about a mile from here. I was actually born about a mile from here. My grandmother and my grandparents lived most of their lives a short way away from here.

“And so since Malia was born, since my oldest child was born, I’ve brought them here every Christmas for the last 18 years now. And I want to make sure that when  they’re bringing their children here, or their grandchildren here, that they are able to appreciate the wonders and the beauty of this island and of the Pacific, and every island.”

Obama planned to visit Midway Atoll on Thursday. While there, the President is to see some of the ocean territory included in a marine national monument he expanded  an executive order issued last week.