Accelerating action on climate change

(Paris) — 20 September 2016

160920 - UN General Assembly

This week, the eyes of the world will be in New York where the UN General Assembly is coinciding with Climate Week. As it happens, this is also the perfect time for a push towards full ratification of the Paris Agreement, which was negotiated during the COP 21 summit last December.

So far, 29 countries have ratified the agreement, according to the UNFCCC, including both the United States and China who jointly announced ratification at a meeting last month. Another 26 countries must still ratify the agreement for it to come into force. Jonathan Pershing, the US Special Envoy for Climate Change, indicated last week that he expected about 30 countries to ratify the treaty on Wednesday, which would push it over the 55 country threshold needed to come into force. Although this week is unlikely to see the secondary requirement surpassed – countries accounting for 55% of global emissions – this may also be reached before the end of 2016.

160920 - Paris Agreement Ratification

This would be a unique achievement. In contrast, almost a decade passed before the 1997 Kyoto Protocol finally went into effect in 2005.

The speed at which ratification is taking place reflects the enthusiasm and concrete commitments that countries brought to Paris last year. In the weeks leading up to COP21, IEA Executive Director Dr Fatih Birol noted that “the fact that over 150 countries – representing 90% of global economic activity and nearly 90% of global energy-related greenhouse gas emissions – have submitted pledges to reduce emissions is, in itself, remarkable”.

If these pledges are met, then countries currently accounting for more than half of global economic activity will see their energy-related greenhouse gas emissions either plateau or be in decline by 2030. Global energy intensity, a measure of energy use per unit of economic output, would improve to 2030 at a rate almost three times faster than the rate seen since 2000. In the power sector, 70% of additional electricity generation to 2030 would be low-carbon. Significantly, the power sector – the world’s largest source of energy-related CO2 emissions – sees emissions plateau at close to today’s levels. This would effectively break the link between rising electricity demand and rising related CO2 emissions.

Entry into force of the Paris Agreement would send a clear signal to policymakers and industry that the world as a whole is making a move to a low-carbon economy, providing certainty and confidence to investors and governments alike. With news this week that China has was the world’s largest investor into low-carbon power generation in 2015, Canada committing to a national price on carbon, and technology giant Apple pledging to run on 100% renewable energy, it is clear that the momentum behind the low-carbon energy transition is growing.

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