The world is now bound to fight climate change after the Paris climate agreement became law today, with 96 countries pledging their support and many more expected to join in the near future.
“We remain in a race against time,” UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon told a press gathering today at the UN Headquarters in New York. “But with the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the world has the plans we need to make the shift to a low-emission, climate-resilient path.”
This is a major victory for the environment and could help the Earth avert the worst effects of climate change. It’s the result of years-long diplomacy campaigns and, at its core, is an effort to rein in fossil fuels.
Because the world is still so dependent on fossil fuels, getting every country on board was a challenge and caused the deal to be less robust than environmentalists had hoped.
In fact, the agreement was ratified largely because of its flexible structure — countries were allowed to decide the extent of their commitments and none on the particular commitments are actually legally binding.
However, the involvement of so many countries and the global recognition of the threat of climate change creates a powerful peer-pressure incentive. Countries will be holding one another accountable to reach the global goal of keep temperature rises below 2 degrees celsius from pre-industrial levels. Currently, humanity is on pace to fly past the 2 degree mark, but future breakthroughs in renewable energy will accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels.
This diplomatic peer pressure is backed up by the expectations of the public, who are increasingly demanding climate action from their leaders.
Over time, the agreement is expected to become more capable. Beginning in 2020, countries will have to update their commitments every five years and, starting in 2023, countries will have to provide detailed progress reports.
In December 2015, the Paris agreement was first formalized. Then on Earth Day of this year, countries reaffirmed their commitments. A month ago, the threshold for finalizing the agreement — countries responsible for more than 55% of emissions had to submit fully detailed plans of action — was surpassed.
Now, the world can get to the dirty work of actually achieving their targets.