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The US and the Paris Agreement: In or Out and at What Cost?

Published on May 10, 2017        Author: 

Ever since President Donald Trump won the US elections, climate pundits have been playing the ‘will they, won’t they’ game in relation to US withdrawal from the hard-won and widely accepted 2015 Paris Agreement. The political need of the hour, it appears, is to keep the US in, and while that is certainly a desirable goal, it is time to ask, ‘at what cost’?

The US decision on whether it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement is imminent, but in advance of this decision President Trump has begun the process of dismantling Obama-era domestic regulations designed to address US greenhouse gas emissions. In the circumstances, even if the US decides to remain in the Paris Agreement, it would need to either lower the ambition of its nationally determined contribution (NDC), or be ready to fall short of it. This is at the heart of the current controversy animating the climate world – can a state downgrade its NDC under the terms of the Paris Agreement? American legal advisors in an understandable bid to keep the US in the Paris Agreement, are arguing that it can. I would like to argue that a different interpretation, one more in keeping with the object, purpose and spirit of the Paris Agreement, is possible, and even desirable.

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On the Paris Agreement’s Imminent Entry Into Force (Part II of II)

Published on October 12, 2016        Author: 

This is Part II of a two-part post.

What are the Consequences of the Paris Agreement’s Entering into Force?

The Paris Agreement is to enter into force on 4 November 2016, 30 days after the second of its two thresholds was passed on 5 October 2016. On that day, the emissions covered by those Parties to the Convention that ratified or accepted the Agreement amounted to 56.75% of global total emissions; crossing the 55% bar required by the agreement. (see Part I)

So, what does this mean? I would like to highlight 10 points.

First of all, the Agreement becomes international law. It is an international treaty, i.e. an international agreement concluded between states in written form and will be governed by international law (Art. 2.1 (a) Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – VCLT).

While 197 Parties to the UNFCCC adopted the Paris Agreement and 191 signed it so far, it is important to note that it will only bind those 74 states and the EU (as of 7 October 2016) which have expressed their consent to be bound by it through ratification, acceptance or approval. Each of these states for which the Agreement is in force will then become a “Party” to the Agreement. This means that despite the commonly used adage, it is not a universal agreement. Rather, at the time of entry into force, it captures only about 2/5 of the Parties to the Convention, with others hopefully joining over time.

According to the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”, Parties are obliged to keep the treaty and must perform it in good faith (VCLT, Article 26). Good faith suggests that Parties need to take the necessary steps to comply with the object and purpose of the treaty. Neither can Parties invoke restrictions imposed by domestic law as reason for not complying with their treaty obligations. Read the rest of this entry…

 

On the Paris Agreement’s Imminent Entry Into Force (Part I of II)

Published on October 11, 2016        Author: 

This is Part I of a two-part post.

Rapid Entry Into Force or the “Rush to Ratify”

The Paris Agreement will enter into force on 4 November 2016. The agreement requires the deposition of instruments of ratification or acceptance by at least 55 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the latest ratifications by the EU, Canada and New Zealand respectively – only a couple of days after India deposited its instrument of ratification – these conditions were fulfilled yesterday, on 5 October 2016. By that day, 72 Parties to the Convention had deposited their instruments accounting in total for 56,75 % of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement will enter into force 30 days from this day – less than a year since its adoption!

Such rapid entry into force arguably is record-breaking; unparalleled in multilateral treaty making – environmental or not.

The adoption of Paris Agreement in December 2015 was hailed as a victory of multilateralism; as a sign of hope that the states of this world can get together and cooperate in the face of a global commons challenge. Yet, in Paris negotiators were in the dark about how long it would take before the agreement would become law; an international treaty. Certainly no-one expected this to happen within less than a year or only a little over six months since it was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 in New York.

It was no small achievement that states managed to reach an agreement on such complex issue as climate change. Yet, garnering their political will behind its legal bindingness is a significant feat which calls for some reflection.

How was it possible? Read the rest of this entry…

 
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The power of 2°C: towards a new paradigm of international lawmaking?

Published on February 25, 2016        Author: 

The outcomes of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — the Paris Agreement — is widely lauded as a ‘historic’ achievement. It is still up for debate whether the new Agreement will really become a historical turning point that can lead us to a carbon neutral future, as some scientists criticised its empty promises and insufficient actions. However, one implication of the Paris Agreement is clearly ‘historic’ and should be celebrated — it is the most important international treaty adopted in the recent decade, agreed by 195 countries. Despite stagnation in international lawmaking observed by Pauwelyn, Wessel and Wouters (2014), the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC shows that reaching a multilateral agreement is still possible. In addition to Prof Jorge Viñuales’ recent analysis, in this post I would like to discuss a key factor that makes the Paris Agreement ‘special’, i.e. a strong link between climate talks and numerical standards.

One shining star of the COP21 talks was the so-called 2-degree target — in order to prevent dangerous climate change, global mean temperature should not rise 2 Celsius degrees above preindustrial levels. The target was first recognised by the European Union (EU) in 1996 and has gradually proliferated into political debates and the public sphere (see Randall’s widely cited article for the history of the target). Now 2°C is literally everywhere in the news; CNN even has a special column called two degrees. One well-known achievement of the Paris Agreement is that not only it stresses the importance of keeping global warming ‘well below 2 °C’, but also pledges to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C’ (Article 2(1)(a) of the Agreement). 2°C has undoubtedly become the symbol of climate negotiations, and moving from 2 to 1.5 °C is considered by many as a major triumph.

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The Paris Agreement: A Rejoinder

Published on February 16, 2016        Author: 

In his analysis of the recently adopted Paris Agreement, Professor Jorge Viñuales shed light on the main features of this new treaty. He concludes that, while the Agreement is not perfect, it is certainly ‘more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.’ I cannot but agree with this assessment: the Paris Agreement is probably the best that could be achieved at this place and time and, given the premises, its adoption as a treaty last December was almost miraculous. This post expands upon a couple of points raised in his analysis, focusing on the legal form of the Paris Agreement, its relationship with the UNFCCC and on the nature of obligations concerning the review of parties’ commitments.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part III of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the last post in a series (see Part I and Part II) featuring Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement. Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

Implementation techniques

The main innovation of the Paris Agreement lies in its implementation techniques and, particularly, the ‘enhanced transparency framework for action and support’ established by Article 13. This mechanism, the first of its kind in global environmental governance, is the embodiment of the approach, followed since the launching of the ADP in 2011, according to which emission targets would be set domestically and measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) would be organised at the international level. It is, of course, not the only technique, as the Agreement also contemplates many others. For analytical purposes, I will make a distinction between information-based techniques, facilitative techniques and the management of non-compliance.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part II of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the second in a series of three posts that continues Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement.  Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

In yesterday’s post, I examined the context leading to the Paris Agreement, its basic legal structure and goals. ‘The Paris Agreement is appended as an Annex to the ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’, Draft Decision -/CP.21, 12 December 2015, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9 (‘Decision’). Today’s post proceeds to scrutinize the Agreement’s three main action areas.  Tomorrow’s final post discusses the implementation techniques applicable in the Agreement, and offers concluding observations.

Action areas

The Paris Agreement sets three main action areas, two of which – mitigation (Articles 3-6) and adaptation (Article 7) – are given particular weight, whereas the third – loss and damage (Article 8) – is more circumscribed, and perhaps even confined within narrow bounds.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part I of III)

Published on February 7, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the first in a series of three posts analyzing the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement, authored by Professor Jorge Viñuales, the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

Less is more, at least sometimes. The 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (‘UNFCCC’) resulted – against all odds – in the adoption of a ‘Paris Agreement’ (hereafter, “Decision”) which will be opened for signature on the 22 April 2016. (The Paris Agreement is appended as the Annex to the Decision.) The Paris Agreement is not perfect, but is more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.  My purpose here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis of this instrument. That will come in time, once the new Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (‘APA’) but also a number of other Party and ‘non-Party stakeholders’ (Decision, paras. 134-137).  have provided further details as to both the modalities of the different mechanisms introduced by the Agreement and the variety of nationally determined contributions and other actions pledged in connection with mitigation and adaptation. However, from the perspective of a lawyer and addressing an audience of lawyers, I thought it would not be without interest to provide an annotated snapshot of the legal architecture of the Paris Agreement.  Part I of these posts focus on the context that led to the adoption of the Paris Agreement and provides an original schematic of the Paris Agreement and the goals of the Paris Agreement.  Part II tomorrow will set out the three main components of the Paris Agreement’s architecture and offers concluding observations.  Finally, Part III will discuss the implementation techniques of the Agreement and offer concluding observations.

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