A Historic Day: Paris Agreement on Climate Change Comes Into Force


Today is a day of great moment for Planet Earth. The Paris Agreement, signed by 175 countries in New York last Earth Day, April 22, is now in force. This is unexpectedly early, and just ahead of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech, Morocco. How did this happen? Well, the number of countries ratifying the Agreement reached the required number earlier than anticipated, with many small island states leading the charge. This shows the sense of urgency with which the global community regards this issue. On October 5, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced today’s date after 55 countries deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or accession with the Secretary-General. To date, 97 of the 197 Parties to the Agreement have ratified it, and the first meeting of Parties to Agreement will take place in Marrakech.

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What of Jamaica, you may ask? Well, the good news is that the Attorney General’s office has given the green light for Jamaica to go ahead and ratify the Agreement, signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kamina Johnson Smith last April. This was announced last week at the Pre-COP22 Consultation in Kingston. The Attorney General has also made a number of recommendations. Now, after a series of stakeholder consultations (which are essential, so that they all know what will be required of them under the Agreement), the formal request will be made to Cabinet for ratification. Considering that the Government officials involved are or will be in Marrakech, and we are approaching the end of the year, it seems unlikely at this point that Jamaica will be able to ratify the Paris Agreement before Christmas – although that would be nice. It will most likely take place early in 2017.

Rabi Island, Fiji. Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events pose an imminent threat to low-lying atoll islands across the Pacific. These vulnerable island nations were among the first to ratify the Paris Agreement. Fiji signed and ratified the Agreement on April 22, for example. (Photo: OCHA/Danielle Parry)
Rabi Island, Fiji. Rising sea levels and more extreme weather events pose an imminent threat to low-lying atoll islands across the Pacific. These vulnerable island nations were among the first to ratify the Paris Agreement. Fiji signed and ratified the Agreement on April 22, for example. (Photo: OCHA/Danielle Parry)

Just for comparison, among our Caribbean neighbors, the following have already ratified: Antigua & Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. So we are somewhat behind the curve. There is much work to be done by the Climate Change Division, situated in the Ministry of Economic Growth & Job Creation, and its partner agencies.

So, the Jamaican delegation, including Government negotiators as well as private sector and civil society representatives, is on its way to Marrakech. I am glad the private sector is involved, as we really need much more buy-in from our business people to push the green economy forward in Jamaica. While they are there, I hope they will get a chance to see the world’s largest solar installation, which was switched on in February…and be inspired by it.

Phase one of the world's largest solar power plant, Noor 1, near Ouarzazate, Morocco was inaugurated in February, 2016. Two similar facilities are expected to be operational by the end of 2017.
Phase one of the world’s largest solar power plant, Noor 1, near Ouarzazate, Morocco was inaugurated in February, 2016. Two similar facilities are expected to be operational by the end of 2017.

Here is today’s press release from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). You can find this and much more on the UNFCCC website at http://newsroom.unfccc.int  There is also a nice app called UNFCCC Negotiator, which I have just downloaded on my phone. It has tons of stuff, including news, documents, social media etc.

The Eiffel Tower in Paris, lit up green tonight to celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. (Photo: Twitter @ONU_France)
The Eiffel Tower in Paris, lit up green tonight to celebrate the entry into force of the Paris Agreement. (Photo: Twitter @ONU_France)

(Marrakech, 4 November 2016) – A big green light for faster, stronger climate action was switched on today as the Paris Climate Change Agreement entered into force, only three days before the start of this year’s UN Climate Change Conference in Marrakech.

“The Paris Agreement’s ambitious and essential goals are now a live reality for every government. From today, ever-increasing climate action becomes an accepted responsibility and a central part of the sustainable development plans of all countries,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The international effort to bring the Paris Agreement into force in less than a year – an unexpectedly rapid result – reflects the strong, common political will to shift as quickly as possible towards the low-carbon, resilient economies and societies which are the only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

“Climate action – faster, smarter, bigger and better – reduces the greenhouse gas emissions which drive climate change and at the same time catalyzes the clean power economies and climate-resilient societies which are the foundation on which the future health, wealth and well-being of all people now depend,” said Ms. Espinosa.

Last year, countries of the world constructed a fresh, integrated vision for the future which rests firmly on the Paris Agreement, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

These momentous agreements must succeed together and require unprecedented scale and depth of universal and concerted action involving all governments, local and regional authorities, business and investment actors at all levels and in all countries.

Pressing Timetable and Key Tasks for Marrakech Conference

The timetable is pressing. The Paris Agreement’s primary goal – to limit global warming to well below 2°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible to prevent dangerous tipping points in the climate system – means that global emissions must peak soon then be driven down very rapidly.

Yet greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere and global average temperatures continue rising, underlining the urgent task in front of the two-week COP 22 conference in Marrakech, beginning Monday, 7 November.

The Agreement’s early entry into force has focused minds on completing the fundamental work and confirming the key requirements that will allow countries together to implement Paris’s goals at the required scale and speed. In Marrakech, that includes several important issues.

Marrakech will host the first meeting of the Paris Agreement’s governing body, known as the CMA. This is a moment of celebration but also a moment of reflection on the task ahead and a point where governments recommit to the new agenda of rapid implementation, not least in pressing forward with adequate support for vulnerable countries to take their own action.

Meanwhile, work will continue in Marrakech to complete the details of a transparent global regime, or rulebook, which will account for, review and underpin greater action by all sides.

It is the completed rulebook that will make the Paris Agreement work smoothly over the years and decades to come. The early entry into force of the Agreement calls for a speedy completion of the rulebook, ideally by 2018.

Marrakech also gives developed countries the opportunity to present their roadmap to mobilize the pledged 100 billion dollars in annual support to developing countries by 2020.

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Meanwhile on this significant day, the Jamaica Environment Trust delivered its online petition to Prime Minister Andrew Holness, bearing 21,000 signatures (collected in just two weeks) and asking for the Jamaican Government to “say NO to coal.” There was no fanfare, but this is such an important urging to continue along what we all know is the right path, to reduce carbon emissions, to preserve and hopefully improve the quality of life for all Jamaicans, and to work on adapting to climate change – with all our hearts and all our minds.

We must keep heading in the right direction on climate change – and fast.

PS. Please don’t forget to watch Leonardo DiCaprio’s incredible documentary film Before the Floodrecently launched on National Geographic and now available on YouTube here.  Of course, Leo is not a scientist. He’s an Oscar-winning actor. Even more so for that reason, I so admire him for his advocacy, his passion and his honesty. It should be shown in schools, colleges and across the country!

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