The rush to ratification of the Paris Agreement

Climate change in the context of sustainable development
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon opens the High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on 21 September 2016. Rick Bajornas/UN Photo

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At the time of writing, according to the UNFCCC website tracking ratifications of the Paris Climate Agreement (PA), we currently have 60 Parties and 47.76 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions accounted for. According to Article 21 of the PA, the agreement will ‘enter into force’ upon ratification by 55 Parties accounting for 55 percent of global GHG emissions.

We have crossed the threshold of ‘Party’ ratifications. The agreement has now been ratified by the largest emitters, China and the United States, as well as one of the largest forest emitters, Brazil. The announcements made in New York during the annual climate week have provided much more momentum, and expectations are high that the targets will be achieved either before, or at COP22 in Marrakesh with around 14 other countries accounting for 12.58 percent of emissions, stating intentions to ratify by the end of 2016. At least 19 countries engaged in REDD+ implementation have now ratified the agreement.

The process toward ratification has moved much faster than anticipated in the lead-up to and during the Paris COP in 2015. Much of the new negotiation processes put in place in Paris were agreed upon based on an expectation that the PA would enter into force in 2020. The expected early entry into force has now resulted in a separate new negotiation concerning special arrangements to be put in place, for example to ensure that parties that have not ratified the agreement can remain engaged in negotiations related to guidance and modalities related to its implementation.

At least 19 of the 60 countries to ratify the Paris Agreement are also engaged in REDD+ efforts. Source: UNTC (click to expand image)

Looking outside the (UNFCCC) box

As governments, NGOs, scientists and political analysts prophesize about the fate of the planet, it is also useful to take a step back from the UNFCCC and look more closely at other related processes that involve or impact climate action.

For example, the Convention on Biological Diversity has put in place a de facto moratorium on geo-engineering, which is very closely linked with many ‘techno-fixes’ to achieve the 1.5 degree target. Corporations large and small are making all sorts of ‘climate friendly’ representations, including zero deforestation and removal of commodity-driven deforestation from supply chains, and the World Heritage Committee and UNESCO are consistently confronted with how to address the effect on World Heritage areas suffering from climate-related impacts.

Others include the implementation of the International Labor Organization’s Just Transition Guidelines, the International Civil Aviation Organization’s steps to achieve its carbon neutrality goal by 2020 and how this could potentially relate to REDD+ carbon markets. And, many argue that recent trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms have the potential to undermine climate action.

Climate change is ubiquitous throughout perhaps all multilateral processes as well as across national ministries, the sub-national level and to the people on the ground, and this is a huge challenge when it comes to coordination and harmonization of policy approaches. It also raises serious questions concerning allocation of scare resources, finance and priorities across areas such as human rights, economics, biodiversity and development.

In the context of sustainable development

The term ‘sustainable development’ has been around for some time and is a term that many people have a love-hate relationship with, largely due to a lack of understanding as to what it means combined with multiple interpretations serving a range of agendas.

As is the case with many multilateral agreements, the PA is now confronted with the challenge of defining the term ‘sustainable’ as it appears 17 times throughout the PA text in different contexts, including ‘sustainable lifestyles’, ‘sustainable patterns of consumption and production’, ‘sustainable management of forests’ and ‘sustainable management of natural resources’.

The broader term ‘sustainable development’ appears 12 times in the text. What is most interesting and important, however, is that each of the Paris Agreement goals, including the temperature goal of well below 2 or 1.5 degrees, the net zero emissions mitigation goal and the global adaptation goal are all to be achieved in the ‘context of sustainable development’.  Many understand this to be an intentional and direct link to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) also agreed upon in 2015 and which are now being implemented at the national level globally.

The SDGs, climate, forests and landscapes

Although one of the SDGs – No. 13 – is specific to climate action, most other SDGs also relate to climate change and can make substantial contributions to achieving the objectives of the PA. These processes are non linear and cross cutting.

Below we explore some of the SDGs, their targets and their links to the implementation of the PA in the context of forests and landscapes.

SDG 1: Ending poverty, to build the resilience of the poor and vulnerable and reduce their exposure to climate-related extreme events by 2030.

SDG 2: Ending hunger, achieving food security, nutrition and sustainable agriculture, to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change and that improve land and soil quality by 2030.

SDG 5: Achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls requires that reforms are undertaken to give women equal rights to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources.

SDG 6: Ensuring access to water for all requires to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers and lakes by 2020.

SDG 7: Ensuring access to energy provides multiple goals by 2030 including to substantially increase renewable energy and double the global rate of energy efficiency.

SDG 8: Economic growth provides to improve progressively, through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation.

SDG 9: Infrastructure provides that by 2030 to upgrade infrastructure with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of environmentally sound technologies.

SDG 11: Sustainable cities provides that by 2020 to substantially increase the number of cities and human settlements adopting and implementing integrated policies and plans towards mitigation and adaptation to climate change and resilience to disasters.

SDG 12: Sustainable consumption and production patterns provides that by 2030 achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources; and to encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle, as well as restructuring taxation and phasing out harmful subsidies to reflect their environmental impacts.

SDG 13: Climate change essentially defers to the PA through acknowledging that the UNFCCC is the primary international, intergovernmental forum for negotiating the global response to climate change.

SDG 14: Oceans provides to minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels, and by 2020 sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems.

SDG 15: Biodiversity, forests and deserts provides multiple relevant goals including by 2020, ensuring the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands; and to halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally; as well as to take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity.

SDG 16: Promotion of just, peaceful and secure environments requires for the promotion of the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all as well as ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

SDG 17: Partnerships provides for strengthening financial resource mobilization, technology development, capacity building and encouraging and promoting effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships.

Sustainability now

Based on the rate of ratifications and the progress being made with the SDGs, countries will be implementing their contributions, obligations and efforts related to both processes in parallel in the immediate future.

Monitoring, collection of information and data and reporting could also be aligned across these processes where relevant, and contribute to obligations under the PA-enhanced transparency system and in the context of features and information to be included in NDCs and the Global Stocktake. It may therefore be useful for countries to consider the SDGs that can specifically contribute to the implementation of the PA, including the SDG targets that are pre-2020, in upcoming negotiations.

Agreeing upon the PA and SDGs involved significant effort, and as we now turn attention to implementation, it will be important for all involved, state and non-state, to remain focused on the PA and its implementation but do so in the context and with awareness of the broader approach to sustainability as a critical objective.

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Topic(s) :   REDD+ Climate change Climate talks