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LATIN AMERICA / THE CARIBBEAN
Paris Agreement on climate change: and now what?
Latinamerica Press
5/25/2016
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This past Apr. 22, 177 countries signed the agreement that will replace the Kyoto Protocol, which will only come into effect if is ratified by 55 countries.

In December 2015, representatives of 196 countries adopted by consensus the principles of the Paris Agreement — negotiated in the 21st International Conference on Climate Change (COP21) that took place in Paris —, aimed at replacing the Kyoto Protocol, whose objectives expired in 2012 and were extended until 2020.

Four months later, commemorating Earth Day on Apr. 22, 177 countries signed the agreement and 15 of them ratified it that same day, including Barbados, Belize, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, and Saint Lucia. The ratification process will be “key”, said Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), being that for it to come into force and be binding, the agreement must be ratified by 55 countries signatories representing not less than 55% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The key points of the agreement, to be reviewed and revised every five years, include holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C; ensuring it is legally binding for those countries that sign and ratify it; and that it establishes the commitment by the developed countries to provide US$100 billion annually to help developing countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.

All the countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, except Nicaragua and Ecuador, signed the agreement, making a commitment to comply with the guidelines established in the agreement. These two countries considered that the agreement lacked in the area of assistance provided to developing countries.

“It is neither ethical nor coherent to invoke human rights in the agreement and at the same time ask developing countries to give up their legal rights, including the right to demand compensation for loss or damages, and the right to litigate judicial responsibilities,” said Paul Oquist, Minister-Private Secretary for National Policies of Nicaragua.

Rio-Paris via Kyoto
The second Earth Summit took place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 1992 — the first one took place in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1972 — and the UNFCCC that established in very general terms the objectives in matters of stabilizing concentrations of GHG in Earth’s atmosphere was prepared at the end of the summit.

The Conference of Parties (COP) was to take place yearly starting in 1995, in order to verify the implementation of the objectives of the UNFCCC. The third COP took place in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, resulting in the well known Kyoto Protocol, where it was agreed to reduce contaminant emissions by at least 5% between 2008 and 2012, taking the 1990 levels as a reference.

Its implementation, due to the long ratification process, did not occur until 2005. Although the United States signed it initially, it did not ratify it and finally withdrew from the Protocol in 2001, during the term in office of George W. Bush (2001-2009).

The Paris Agreement had its antecedent in the COP20 in Lima, Peru, from Dec. 1 to 12, 2014, with the approval of “The Lima Call for Climate Action” that established the elements of the new agreement that would replace the Kyoto Protocol in COP21, which took place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 15, 2015.

Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, said about the Paris Agreement: “Today the world gets a lifeline, a last chance to hand over to future generations a world that is more stable, a healthier planet, fairer societies and more prosperous economies.”

Between adherence and criticism
Daniel Ortega Pacheco, Minister of the Environment in Ecuador, said during COP21 that “this collective effort is useless if it is not an agreement that commits and force all parties, including those who despite being highly pollutant did not ratify or abandoned previous instruments,” in a clear reference to the United States.

In effect, the Paris Agreement, although it establishes the concrete objectives to be reached, “it does not, however, ensure implementation, which necessarily remains the domain of politicians, businessmen, scientists, engineers, and civil society,” said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Added to this criticism is that of the Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN) — non-profit organization that supports farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems —, who questions the presence of oil and coal mining companies “at the policy table for decisions on climate change. Their profits depend on business-as-usual and they’ll do everything in their power to undermine meaningful action.”

Thus, between ratification processes to come and criticism of the process, the signing of the Paris Agreement opens the door to a large incertitude regarding the future of the planet. —Latinamerica Press.


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