As Paris Agreement goes into effect, what’s next to slow climate change?

When the Paris climate agreement goes into effect on Friday, the United Nations will convene to discuss how it will achieve specific emissions goals.

Philippe Laurenson/Reuters
Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar at a press conference in Marseille, France. Mr. Mezouar will serve as president of the 22nd Conference of the Parties, or COP22.

When the United Nations ratified the Paris Agreement earlier this month, it was lauded as a critical step forward in combating climate change. But the real labor begins Monday, in Marrakech, Morocco.

That’s where the UN will convene to discuss how it will achieve specific emissions goals. The Paris deal, which goes into effect Friday, asks each member nation to curb emissions in relation to its size and economic situation. The endgame is to prevent warming more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But the planet isn’t yet on track to meet that goal, officials say.

“The science shows that we need to move much faster,” said Erik Solheim, director of the UN Environment Program (UNEP). “The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver.”

UNEP has projected that, if annual emissions exceed 42 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2030, it will likely be impossible to meet the 2-degree goal. But even with pledged reductions under the Paris Agreement, emissions could still be pushing 56 billion tons by that deadline.

The Christian Science Monitor’s Rowena Lindsay reported:

In addition, methane gas is notoriously hard to estimate, possibly adding as much as 400 million tons of emissions some years.... Additionally, the US policy relies heavily on carbon reuptake from forests, but estimates range widely on how much carbon forests can absorb.

Dire as that forecast sounds, government regulations probably weren’t going halt climate change by themselves. Clean power technologies, funded by both public and private interests, will also be critical to this end. But in the meantime, the UN has an opportunity to maximize its impact.

At the 22nd Conference of the Parties, or COP22, diplomats will consider establishing an independent body that would monitor each country’s pollution levels. With consistent standards to anchor the data, such an organization could compare progress between countries and assess their commitment to emissions pledges.

But some nations may resist such a system, analysts say. China and India, both of which rely economically on high-emissions technologies, may be more inclined toward self-reporting.

Diplomats will also parse the monetary aspect of emissions goals. The richest UN member nations have pledged to spend $100 billion per year by 2020 to ease the transition for poorer countries, but that promise isn't legally binding. Less-developed nations have expressed concern that their own economic growth would be stunted by stricter emission limits. Fully industrialized nations have less to lose, having already reaped the benefits of environmental carelessness.  

Many of the same developing nations also face the threat of rising seas, officials say.

“[This is an] opportunity to make the voices of the most vulnerable countries to climate change heard, in particular African countries and island states,” said Salaheddine Mezouar, COP22 president and Moroccan foreign affairs minister, in a statement. “It is urgent to act on these issues linked to stability and security.”

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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