It’s official: The UK has ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change

BREAKING: Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson has today (17 November) put pen to paper and officially ratified the Paris Agreement on behalf of the UK, joining more than 100 nations that have now approved the historic climate deal.

MPs unanimously agreed to approve the Paris Agreement ratification process last night, and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) tweeted a picture of Johnson signing the deal this afternoon.

The UK has become the 111th country to formally approve the Agreement. The ratification of a major nation during the UN’s COP22 climate change conference in Marrakech is a particularly welcome announcement, given the recent uncertainty caused by Donald Trump’s shock victory as US President, after Trump pledged to pull the US out of the treaty.

National plan 

UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced in September that the country would ratify the Paris Agreement by the end of the year, but since that time there was little indication as to when the ratification would officially take place. UK law dictates that international treaties are subjected to a 21-day ‘negative procedure process’ – which allows lawmakers to object to provisions. That period expired this week, paving the way for BEIS to announce the ratification without objection.

The UK originally signed the Paris Agreement through negotiations with the European Union (EU), and the country was expected to reduce emissions as part of a Member State burden-sharing commitment. While the Brexit vote led many to believe that the EU’s climate pledge would need adjusting, the UK has since taken steps to introduce its own emissions scheme, which all Member States are required to do.

The Climate Change Act, introduce in 2008, already provides the legal framework for the UK government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 57% through to 2028-2032 against a 1990 baseline. The recent approval of the Fifth Carbon Budget has put the UK on track to meet the legally-binding carbon reduction targets laid out in the 2008 act, which also sets an 80% emissions reduction target for 2050, from the same 1990 baseline.

According to the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the UK is currently on track to outperform the Second and Third Carbon Budgets, but off track to meet the Fourth – which covers the period 2023-27 and requires a 50% emissions reduction from 1990 levels.

Speaking in September, Hurd claimed that once the treaty had been ratified by the UK, it must be replicated by a resilient domestic low-carbon energy policy developed in collaboration with the business sector.

The Paris Agreement’s enforcement threshold – which required at least 55 nations representing 55% of all global emissions to ratify – was triggered in October after a host of European nations along with the likes of Canada, Bolivia and Nepal ratified.

The deal then officially entered into force on 4 November, and the UN’s COP22 talks in Marrakesh marked the first time that all of the nations that had ratified the deal had come together under one roof. The UK has now secured a seat at the table for future climate talks.

What happens next?

Reacting to today’s news, Nick Molho, executive director of the Aldersgate Group, said: “The UK Government has sent a strong signal of its commitment to international co-operation by ratifying the Paris Agreement today.

“The UK must now use its upcoming emissions reduction plan and industrial strategy to accelerate affordable private investment in clean and efficient technologies, grow supply chains across the UK and build a globally competitive low carbon economy.”

“The UK’s ratification sits alongside many positive moves in the past week, not least 360 major US businesses yesterday calling for world leaders to accelerate action on climate change and Germany’s ambitious 2050 decarbonisation plan. It confirms the global political and business support for the transition to a low carbon economy remains unswayed.”

Friends of the Earth’s international climate campaigner Asad Rehman said: “This excellent news sends yet another signal to Donald Trump that world nations will act together on climate, and that he should reaffirm the US’s commitment on this issue too.”

“Signing the treaty must now be followed by strong, urgent action. The UK government should ban new fossil fuel exploration such as fracking, and throw its full weight behind clean renewable energy as the first steps towards its fair share of keeping global temperature rises below 1.5 degrees.

“The Paris Agreement is signed and sealed – but where is the UK Government plan to help deliver it?”

Sir Crispin Tickell, former British Ambassador to the United Nations, said: “Britain’s ratification of the historic Paris Agreement is an important moment, not least because our country has for a long time led global efforts to cope with the effects of climate change,” he said.

“One thinks of Margaret Thatcher’s landmark speech to the United Nations in 1989, the Stern review, the UK Climate Change Act, and years of quiet diplomacy at UN climate talks. Theresa May can be proud that she is upholding Thatcher’s tradition of basing climate policies on scientific evidence and on our responsibility to the rest of the world.

“Just this week, it was reported that global emissions have stalled for the third year in a row, despite strong economic growth, reinforcing the view that an effective response to climate change presents significant economic opportunities. Britain’s aim must be to make the most of these as we look to forge new trading relationships based on the industries of the future. The argument that low-carbon policies are in Britain’s national interest can no longer be contested.”

WWF Scotland’s director Lang Banks added: “With its action on renewable electricity and climate justice, Scotland has played a strong leadership role in helping to ensure the UK and other nations commit to global action to reduce carbon pollution.

“However, with global pledges for action so far only sufficient to keep average temperature change to around 3C, well above the safe levels agreed in Paris, all nations need to step up their action. It’s been good to hear from Scottish Ministers that they want to maintain Scotland’s leadership role, and that’s why the forthcoming Climate Action Plan must contain transformative new policies, especially in areas like transport and heat where there has been comparatively little progress so far.”

As Banks points out, even if all the countries ratify the Agreement and reach Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), 2030 emission levels are set to reach 54-56 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2e), placing the world on track for a temperature rise of anything between 2.9C and 3.4C this century, according to UN reports.

COP22 rolls on though, with delegates and representatives striving to establish the framework that will allow the global economy to push for the well below two-degrees target that was highlighted as the ideal global warming limit goal.

Luke Nicholls & Matt Mace

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