For critical climate change action, Paris Agreement just the beginning


Editor’s note: In December, the world’s nations made the biggest commitment to climate change action to date with the Paris Agreement. The global agreement is set to go into effect in 2020 — but with escalating climate impacts like massive coral bleaching in the Great Barrier Reef and mounting sea-level rise, there’s no time to waste.

As the U.N. prepares to host a signing ceremony for the agreement on April 22, Conservation International Climate Policy Director Shyla Raghav outlines the next steps countries need to take.

Question: Countries already adopted the Paris Agreement in December. How is this week’s event different?

Answer: In December, the countries adopted the agreement within the framework of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); with Friday’s signing, they will signal their intention to ratify it. We’re expecting 155 countries
to sign, which will likely be record-shattering in terms of the number of countries signed onto an international accord so soon after adoption.

I think this will be an important point for countries to renew their commitment to the agreement, as well as to propel momentum for climate change action forward. We don’t want to send the signal that the climate problem is solved, or that we’ve
already put in place everything that’s required to achieve the agreement. This is an opportunity for us to leverage existing awareness to ensure that countries are working to fulfill the commitments they have made.

Q: Have any big commitments been made since the Paris meeting?

A: The World Bank just announced their climate change action plan.
It’s very strong on forests and landscapes, which is encouraging. Otherwise, we haven’t seen any big new commitments, just incremental efforts that plug in to the commitments that have already been made.

The next Conference of the Parties (COP) will be in Morocco in November. It won’t be nearly as big as the Paris COP — the next big one will be in 2018 — but that doesn’t mean that all the meetings until then are irrelevant. There’s
still a lot we need to pay attention to.

Q: What needs to happen next?

A: There’s a big agenda between now and 2020, which is the deadline for the Paris Agreement to go into force.

For example, we’ve established ways for countries to work together to meet commitments through market mechanisms, but we don’t have the rules governing those mechanisms to ensure that there’s transparency on reporting and no double counting
— meaning that two countries don’t count the same action to meet their respective commitments if they’re working together. Countries have put their intended commitments forth, but how do we assess their progress? None of those guidelines
or policies have been put in place.

With less than four years until 2020, we do not have time to waste. Forests are being destroyed. Grasslands are being degraded. Coastal ecosystems are disappearing.

Protecting and restoring all of these ecosystems is a crucial part of the solution. Fortunately there are a lot of encouraging examples that countries are getting it — and a lot of foundational work already in place that we can build off of.

I think agriculture is an issue of emerging importance; in Paris it was more on the back burner because we needed to focus on the overall agreement. Now I think there’s broader recognition that agriculture issues as well the management of entire landscapes need to be resolved within the context of the UNFCCC, especially looking at the linkages between the UNFCCC process and the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In their efforts to show solidarity with others, many countries have put forth very ambitious commitments — and in some cases, they don’t know how to go about achieving them. Conservation International and partner organizations need to support these countries’ gestures of goodwill by helping them build the tools to inform decision-making, generate the resources to implement robust climate programs and find ways to link the private sector with government commitments. This is truly a global effort, and we all have to play our part.

Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate policy director. Molly Bergen is the senior managing editor of Human Nature.

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Cover image: Red mangroves in the Bahamas. Protecting and restoring ecosystems is an important part of the solution to climate change; not only do mangroves, tropical forests and other ecosystems absorb carbon from the atmosphere, they also can help communities adapt to climate change impacts. (© Jeff Yonover)

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