What was once heralded as impossible has happened: The Paris climate agreement will officially enter into force in early November.
In order to bring the agreement fully into force, two targets must be met: 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must formally sign up. As of October 5, 72 countries representing all regions of the world — and almost 57 percent of global emissions — have formally ratified the agreement.
Once the agreement takes effect, all signatory nations will work to limit warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), and to adapt to climate change impacts. What sets it apart from previous agreements — other than, possibly, the speed of its ratification — is the prominence of nature in the text, which acknowledges both its role in curbing emissions and helping people adapt to climate impacts.
“The speed at which countries acted to put the Paris Agreement into force in less than a year after it was agreed upon is an inspiration,” said Conservation International CEO Peter Seligmann. “Its swift enacting underscores the urgent need to fight climate change. It has been a long journey to this point, but for the sake of our children and future generations we need to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement by utilizing all means available to fight climate change, especially the potential nature provides as 30 percent of the solution.”
The Paris Agreement explicitly endorses a nature-based initiative called REDD+, short for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation,” which provides financial incentives for communities and countries to keep forests standing, thus reducing carbon emissions caused by deforestation. Tropical forests are incredibly effective at storing carbon — they hold as much as a quarter of the world’s carbon and represent at least 30 percent of the solution to limiting carbon emissions — so protecting them is a key component of reaching the agreement’s goal of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.
Another of the agreement’s global goals is helping humanity adapt to a changing climate, which includes strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability. To do this, countries must recognize the importance of nature — specifically ecosystems and the benefits they provide — and factor nature in as a crucial component of achieving sustainable, climate-resilient development. The agreement’s inclusion of a separate, aspirational global goal on climate change adaptation indicates that it is as critical an issue as reducing carbon emissions — and that it requires immediate solutions. For low-lying island nations like Kiribati that are already facing extreme tangible impacts of climate change like sea-level rise, it is perhaps the most important goal of the Paris deal.
Ratification is just the first step for countries, however. Participating countries now have to decide the rules around how targets and plans will be achieved in order to set their complicated and ambitious climate change strategies into motion.
“We stand with governments, companies, and our peers in our commitment to ensure that global targets are not only met, but exceeded,” said Conservation International Climate Change Lead Shyla Raghav. “And as we applaud progress toward the ratification of the Paris Agreement — a crucial milestone in our fight against climate change — countries must remember that some of the most effective solutions for both mitigation and adaptation come from nature.”
The upcoming climate negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco in November will focus on operationalizing the Paris Agreement by working on the rules and incentives for how it will be carried out.
Sophie Bertazzo is a staff writer for Conservation International.
Cover image: Early morning mist envelops a forest in Papua New Guinea. Tropical forests are incredibly effective at storing carbon — they hold as much as a quarter of the world’s carbon and represent at least 30 percent of the solution to limiting carbon emissions. (© Conservation International/photo by Russell A. Mittermeier)