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The Ratification Hurdles Of The Paris Climate Agreement

Global Warming Policy Forum

The ratification of the Paris Agreement may take longer than many people think

The Paris Agreement was opened for signature at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on  22 April 2016 and will remain open until 21 April 2017, in accordance with Article 20, paragraph 1, of the Paris Agreement.

The Agreement shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession* with the Depositary. These parties must account for at least an estimated 55 % of global greenhouse gas emissions.

*These different terminologies reflect varying legal structures amongst States that are party to the Agreement and provide different routes for approving the deal. The USA would have multiple options available, although ratification would require the approval of Congress. Obama may try to use executive orders to allow America to sign up through an alternative route, but this could make it easier for a future President to annul the deal. However, this may take time; early ratification of the Agreement could mean that it would take a whole four years for a country to extricate itself from the Agreement.

As of 20 May 2016, there are 177 signatories to the Paris Agreement.  Of these, 17 states have also deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval, accounting in total for 0.04 % of the total global emissions. Those countries that have signed include Barbados, Belize, Fiji, Grenada, Guyana, The Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nauru, Palau, (Palestine), Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Somalia and Tuvalu.

Illustrative Scenario of how early ratification might be secured. — source The Guardian

State of the ratification process

* France has ‘ratified’ the Agreement on 15 June and in doing it has become the first major industrialised nation to do so. President Hollande has urged other countries European countries to do the same. So far Hungary and Norway are the only other European countries to ratify. However, none of these commitments are yet to be officially deposited at the UN. What is more, all 28 EU member states will need to ratify the Agreement before the EU can formally submit a joint instrument to the UN.

* Despite White House spin, top Indian government officials have revealed to New Delhi Television that India is unlikely to ratify the Agreement any time soon, saying that India is unlikely to sign the Agreement this year, or even the next.’

* Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modhi of India and President Obama made a much-hyped joint statement from the Oval Office. However, the statement studiously avoided making any explicit commitments on how either country would ratify the deal. The statement, released during Modi’s visit to Washington, reads ‘the United States reaffirms its commitment to join the Agreement as soon as possible this year’. The statement avoided saying that America would ‘ratify’ the deal – as this could require the approval of Congress. US diplomats had also hoped that they could get a similar commitment from India, however the joint statement only reads ‘India similarly has begun its processes to work toward this shared objective’. Washington is keen to secure early entry into force of the Agreement before a potential Trump presidency would be able to unravel international negotiations.

* Chinese support of early ratification has provided some encouragement to those hoping for early entry into force. However, recent pronouncements from Donald Trump have led green groups to blame him for putting the Paris Agreement at risk.

* Russia has set itself at odds with China and the United States’ desire to see early entry into force, instead wanting a clear set of rules to be agreed first. Oleg Shamanov, Russia’s chief climate negotiator, told Reuters: ‘The core issue to create the landscape conducive to joining is the development of the book of rules.’ As the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, Russian opposition provides a significant barrier to US and Chinese aims.

* Gaining support in Europe for ratification could be a lengthy process. The EU cannot join the agreement until all 28 member states have agreed to do so, meaning that it is unlikely to join early on. ‘The assumption is that you have to do this without the EU to get to that 55% hurdle, if you want to see that in the next year or so,’ said Alden Meyer, strategy director for the Union of Concerned Scientists. This would force ‘high ambition’ governments to cobble together a coalition of smaller nations if they hope to reach the 55% mark by the end of the year.

* On Friday 22 April, at a special signing ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York, China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli told attendant dignitaries that ‘China will finalise domestic legal procedures on its accession before the G20 Hangzhou summit in September this year’.


Representing the two largest greenhouse gas emitters, the joint US and Chinese commitment to early entry into force is undoubtedly significant. Nonetheless, the picture becomes significantly more complicated looking at the next two largest emitters: Russia and India. Both countries have indicated that they are prepared to wait before they ratify the Agreement, wanting a clear set of rules and a greater recognition of differentiated responsibilities. The EU process of securing unanimity between 28 member states is likely to mean a significant delay to European ratification. This means that early entry to force is dependent on building a coalition of many smaller countries, a procedure that is likely to be challenging.