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Paris Agreement makes history
October 8, 2016, 4:01 pm

The Paris Agreement cleared the final hurdle for its entry into force with the submission by the European Union of its instrument of ratification on 5 October. So far, the Paris Agreement has been ratified or otherwise joined by 74 Parties representing 59 percent of global emissions.

The nations that have ratified the Agreement include many of the world’s biggest and smallest Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emitters, as well as those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. With the two thresholds of 55 countries and over 55 percent of global emissions having been met, the Paris Agreement will now enter into force in 30 days — in time for COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

In a statement issued before the threshold for ratification of the Paris Agreement was crossed, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: "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."

Praising nations across the globe for acting swiftly to bring the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement into force, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Patricia Espinosa said: “This is a truly historic moment for people everywhere. The two key thresholds needed for the Paris Climate Change Agreement to become legal reality have now been met.”

“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,” she said.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement is more than a step on the road. It is an extraordinary political achievement which has opened the door to a fundamental shift in the way the world sees, prepares for and acts on climate change through stronger action at all levels of government, business, investment and civil society,” said Ms. Espinosa.

The Paris Agreement, a global deal by nearly 200 nations to address climate change, was signed on 12 December, 2015 at the annual UN Conference of Parties (COP21). Under the Agreement, countries are required to set national targets for reducing GHG emissions, and give regular progress updates.

A quick entry into force of the Paris Agreement is critical in order to prevent further climate change, as well as unlock adaptation finance. The Agreement sets a goal of mobilizing $100 billion a year between 2020 and 2025 in climate finance, both for mitigation and adaptation purposes.

Top ten Greenhouse Gas emitters

The ability to harness ever-expanding amounts of data is completely transforming our analytical understanding of environmental problems and solutions. The copious amount of available data on climate change has also often led to contentious discussions on nations responsible for much of the GHG emissions and their obligations to help mitigate its impact on the world.

No matter what the analyses and discussions finally lead to, there is no doubt that cooperation and collaboration from the world’s top GHG emitters is crucial to any attempt at alleviating climate change.

According to recent data, 10 countries produce around 70 percent of global GHG emissions. Over time, the absolute amount of GHGs emitted is what ultimately affects atmospheric concentrations of GHGs and the global carbon budget. So the largest absolute emitters today have a larger role to play in determining the climate of the future.

The top ten countries in terms of total annual emissions or ‘absolute emissions’ are in descending order: China (25.36%), United States (14.4%), European Union (10.6%), India (6.96%), Russia (5.36%), Japan (3.11%), Brazil (2.34%),Indonesia (1.76%), Mexico (1.67%) and Canada (1.65%).

Population and the size of the economy are also two major drivers of absolute emissions. In 2011, the largest absolute emitters comprised 60 percent of global population and 74 percent of global GDP. This also suggests that these countries have significant financial and human capacity to reduce GHG emissions.

Emissions on a per capita basis bring contributions to climate change down to an individual level. Looking at this metric, the order of our top 10 emitters changes considerably. Among the top 10 absolute emitters, only two have per capita emissions that are below the world average. Canada, the United States, and Russia emit more than double the global average per person. On the other end of the spectrum, India’s per capita emissions are only one-third of the global average.

Cumulative emissions describe a country’s total historic emissions. They are a commonly used concept for understanding responsibility for climate change, since they are a proxy for the amount of current warming caused by specific countries.

The graph below shows cumulative emissions including Land-Use Change and Forestry (LUCF) for the top 10 emitters during the period 1990 to 2011. Almost half of emissions come from just four countries: the United States, China, European Union and Russian Federation.

On 3 September 2016, the United States and China delivered their respective documents ratifying the Paris accord on climate change. The US and China are jointly responsible for over 38 percent of global emissions. The United States has pledged to cut its emissions by at least 26 percent over the next 15 years compared to 2005 levels, and China has set a 2030 deadline for its emissions to stop rising.                                                                                                             

The 28-nations that make up European Union, which are together responsible for over 10 percent of global emissions, have set targets to reduce greenhouse gases emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030 compared with 1990 levels.

India the fourth largest emitter of GHG, which formally ratified the Paris Agreement on 2 October of this year, has set a target to increase its share of non-fossil-based power capacity from 30 percent today to about 40 percent by 2030. The country is also committed to reducing its emissions intensity per unit GDP by around 35 percent below 2005 by 2030. Ratification by such large and influential group of countries is also likely to encourage the remaining 27 countries to confirm their commitment.

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