More than 130 countries to sign climate accord on Day One

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, April 11, 2016

An unprecedented number of countries plan to sign the Paris climate deal when it opens for signatures April 22, increasing the odds that the accord will enter into force before 2020.

The United Nations announced last week that more than 130 countries will be on hand in New York City to sign the landmark climate deal, more than have ever signed a U.N. agreement before in its first day.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that this early action is necessary to “turn aspirations into action.”

The record turnout seems to indicate that that “action” will start early.

If the countries that sign the deal on April 22 — which is Earth Day — also move quickly to ratify or adopt it formally, Paris will easily meet its threshold of 55 countries needed to enter into force. There is a second requirement that countries responsible for 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions join, but last week’s announcement that the United States and China plan to do so this year brings that target within relatively easy reach. The world’s two top emitters are responsible for 38 percent of its greenhouse gases.

Paris would enter into force 30 days after those thresholds are met. That, experts said, wasn’t expected.

Throughout most of the negotiations last year, parties assumed they were working toward an agreement that would take effect in 2020. But observers said language was stripped out in the final hours — it’s unclear by whom — that would have barred its taking effect early.

“It was clearly made at the political level, because some of the individual negotiators we talked to clearly were taken by surprise,” said Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of global climate at the Environmental Defense Fund.

But he added that there was “a real logic” to not waiting four years to bring the deal online.

“If we’re going to meet the objectives of Paris, we need more ambition and we need to get started, we need to get going,” Keohane said.

Throwing rulemaking into confusion?

This change in timeline means deadlines for rulemakings and other actions will come more swiftly.

The so-called nationally determined contributions to Paris — which lay out reduction commitments that more than 180 countries have made — will not kick in until 2020. But bringing the Paris deal online early means that more than 20 work items either must be completed early or will still be outstanding when the deal goes live, as Amelia Linn, an international climate change fellow at the Guarini Center, outlined in this¬†analysis.

These deal with transparency and accounting, support for adaptation in developing countries, and a host of other issues. The Paris deal provides deadlines for their completion, with many due at the first conference after the deal enters into force and others due in a year, when the deal is now likely to be live.

Greens say this isn’t a problem. Having the deal in place early, they argue, sends a market signal that the world is serious about acting on climate change and ensures that action won’t drop off between the time Paris was negotiated and when it takes effect.

But it does raise questions about the timing of rulemakings that experts say will consume negotiators when they meet next month in Bonn, Germany.

If a deal is in force, parties might be hesitant to accept any of the rulemakings until negotiations on all of those rulemakings are complete, said Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Once the agreement is in force, the countries are going to want to know the rules that they’re operating under,” he said. “This could change some of the assumptions that people were operating under in Paris on timing.”

Alex Hanafi, EDF’s senior attorney for international climate issues, said negotiators have their work cut out for them in the likely event that the deal enters into force before the conference in late 2017.

But he said negotiators could make “strategic decisions” about how to manage that work plan. For example, they could focus on the rulemakings for transparency and accounting, which the decision text required to be complete two years before the rule was intended to enter force in 2020, and which would give countries confidence that other countries were holding up their end of the agreement.

If the parties need more time to work, he said, in many cases they can pass decisions giving themselves an extension.