Not so long ago, the US and China were regarded as obstacles to the reduction of GHG emissions that are the principal cause of climate change. Yet these two countries very recently ratified the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, which requires a country-by-country reduction in emissions needed to avoid global warming to a degree that would be catastrophic. Further ratifications by at least another twenty-nine countries who signed the Paris agreement are required.
There is a second requirement that must be met for the Agreement to have legal effect: the total carbon emissions from all ratifying countries must represent at least 55% of the historic emissions from all countries.
Besides approving the Paris Agreement at the conclusion of the Paris Congress, countries signed the Agreement at the UN Headquarters on April 22 last. So why is the process of obtaining ratification as slow as it is?
Some countries refer to policy as presented in their position statements at Paris as a justification for their inaction to date. As kids we had a custom when pressured to agree to something that we did not accept: we would cross our fingers on one hand held behind our back. That action gave us a moral out. In some respects these position statements are the equivalent of crossed fingers.
Many countries – Canada is one – are reluctant to accept responsibility for reducing their emissions without political support at home. Our Federal Government is coaxing and cajoling the Provinces and Territories to be contributors to emission reductions needed to meet Canada’s commitment. One Province, Saskatchewan is opposed – unless it gets a better deal on carbon capture and storage, a technology to prevent emissions to the atmosphere. Another, Nova Scotia, says it is unable to meet the time deadlines for suspension of coal-fired generation of electricity. A third, British Columbia, objects to a National Carbon Tax, although its provincial carbon tax has failed to reduce emissions to the extent necessary to meet the target it accepted
There are many other serious problems of implementation of a regime to reduce emissions. Recognition of these problems may prove to be a factor why some countries do not ratify the Agreement.
The UN will continue its efforts to bring the Agreement into effect. September 21 next is set aside for a further signing ceremony at the UN Headquarters. The UN expects an influx of ratifications that may be sufficient to meet the number required by the Agreement.
One feature of UN pressure for ratification is positive: it will maintain the optimism that is necessary in the face of the difficult problems of implementation of the Agreement. Such optimism will be necessary to assist in overcoming these problems.