The Eiffel Tower in Paris lights up with the slogan “Action Now.”
In this photo from last December when the historic Paris climate agreement was still being negotiated, the Eiffel Tower in Paris lights up with the slogan “Action Now.” Credit: AP Photo/Michel Euler

The Paris climate change agreement to limit greenhouse gases entered into force today, hailed by scientists and policy makers as a landmark step toward reducing the dangers of climate change. However, these experts and a new report from the United Nations (UN) called for further measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stave off dramatic harm from climate change.

“We are still in a race against time. We need to transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future.”

At a special forum at the UN this morning to mark the pact’s entry into force, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said crossing that threshold was “an emotional moment” after so much effort over several years. “We are still in a race against time. We need to transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future,” he said. “I ask every one of you to keep up the fight, hold governments accountable, and press for action.”

Speaking at the forum, Keya Chatterjee, executive director of the U.S. Climate Action Network, warned that because “concrete enforcement” is not built into the agreement, it “relies on civil society’s watchful eye to ensure that we do indeed avoid the worst ravages of climate change.” She urged the UN to promote the full removal of fossil fuel subsidies by 2020 and cautioned against lobbyists who might try to prevent implementation of the agreement.

Entering into force less than 12 months after 195 nations agreed to it last December, the agreement aims to hold the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above preindustrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5°C. It also calls for boosting climate change adaptation measures, for developed countries to provide financial resources to assist poor countries, and for countries to provide their individual climate plans, referred to as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), every 5 years. The agreement went into effect just days before the next international climate meeting that begins Monday in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Emissions Gap

A report issued yesterday by the UN states that steeper cuts in greenhouse gases are needed to meet global greenhouse emissions targets for 2030. According to the “Emissions Gap Report 2016,” emissions are expected to reach 54–56 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent annually, well above the 42-metric-gigaton level needed for there to be a chance to limit global warming to 2°C this century.

“If we don’t start taking additional action now, beginning with the upcoming climate meeting in Marrakesh, we will grieve over the avoidable human tragedy,” according to Erik Solheim, head of the UN Environment Programme, based in Nairobi, Kenya. “The growing numbers of climate refugees hit by hunger, poverty, illness and conflict will be a constant reminder of our failure to deliver. The science shows that we need to move much faster.”

“A Defining Moment”

“November 4, 2016, is a defining moment in human history.”

World Bank Group president Jim Yong Kim said in a statement that “November 4, 2016, is a defining moment in human history. For the first time a global agreement to turn down the heat on our planet enters into force.” However, to reach the 1.5° limit, “we must regain the sense of urgency we felt a year ago,” he added.

Kim called for incorporating “climate ambition” into the infrastructure development plans of every country, accelerating the transition to cleaner energy, helping countries build resilience to climate shocks, and encouraging a global financial system that factors in climate risks and opportunities.

Now Comes the Harder Work

After the remarkable achievement in Paris and the treaty’s quick entry into force, “now, of course, the harder work begins in finding routes to achieve the stated objectives,” Joanna Haigh, codirector of the Grantham Institute–Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, told Eos.

“Now, of course, the harder work begins in finding routes to achieve the stated objectives.”

Several routes warrant immediate pursuit, she said. Those include mobilizing the research and development funds promised in Paris for clean-technology innovation, engaging business and finance communities fully as partners; expanding carbon markets; and beefing up and verifying country INDCs.

“It is easy to become dispirited in the face of such enormous challenges,” noted Haigh, “but the message from Paris is that extraordinary advances can be made if there is international will to achieve them.”

Bradley Opdyke, senior lecturer at the Australian National University’s Research School of Earth Sciences, Canberra, told Eos, “If all the signatories stick to their pledges, then the world can start to really get strategic and turn the corner from growing fossil fuel use to real reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.”

In a statement about the treaty entering into force, Kateri Callahan, president of the Washington, D. C.–based Alliance to Save Energy, called for the United States Congress to pursue yet another route: approving Senate energy legislation (S.2012) that includes an energy efficiency package.  “You hear a lot about the costs of addressing climate change, but energy efficiency is an opportunity,“ Callahan said.

—Randy Showstack, Staff Writer


Showstack, R. (2016), Landmark Paris climate accord comes into force, Eos, 97, Published on 04 November 2016.

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