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The Paris Agreement

Agreement was reached in Paris on 12 December 2015 on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.  It will apply to all countries and come into force by 2020.  There was widespread relief at the time that this had been achieved, as a first step towards limiting anthropogenic climate change to safe levels.

Prior to the conference, countries published Intended NDCs for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.  This was a bottom-up approach, with the aim that aggregated contributions would add up to a 2C limit on global temperature increases. However, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) analysis of these showed that the pledges as made would not, if implemented, achieve the  2 oC limit, as they would reduce expected warming of 4-5oC to around 2.7oC.  In response, there were calls from various negotiating groups, including the EU and the UK, for any agreement at Paris to include provisions for five yearly reviews of pledges.  Developed countries also called for clear rules and transparency on emission reporting to ensure targets were met.

An unexpected outcome of the conference was that the ambition of the emissions goal has been increased beyond what was previously agreed to keeping temperatures “well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels”. The agreement also set an aim for emissions to peak “as soon as possible” and for emissions from human activity and absorption by carbon sinks to balance sometime in the second half of the century. There was also agreement for five yearly reviews of Nationally Intended Contributions (NDCs), together with rules on reporting and transparency.

Ratifying the Paris Agreement

On 22 April 2916, in New York, the UK and the EU were two of the parties that signed the Paris Agreement. To date 26 States have ratified the Agreement covering 39.06% of global emissions.  The agreement will come into force 30 days after it is ratified by 55 countries covering 55% of global emissions. China and the US ratified the Agreement on 3 September 2016. The Agreement is open for ratification for a year, however countries that do not ratify within that period can still take accede to the treaty. [1]

There are two separate processes for the ratification of the Agreement; one for the European Union (EU) and one for the UK Government. For the UK, an EU treaty requiring ratification is presented to Parliament as a Command Paper.  A draft Order in Council is laid before Parliament.  It may be debated and/or approved by both Houses by the affirmative procedure, which means it needs the approval of both Houses.

The European Scrutiny Committee, in its report in March this year, noted the Government’s view that signing the Agreement was straightforward and an important step towards ratification.  Ratification would come later and would require Parliamentary approval in each Member State.[2]  Ratification by the EU will not take place until this approval has been completed by all Member States, and many have already indicated that they are unlikely to be have done so before 2017.[3]  The UK has stated that it plans to ratify the Agreement when the EU and other Member States do so.[4]  France is the first EU Member State to complete the domestic legislative process for the ratification of the Agreement, but has not, as has been reported, ratified the treaty itself.

What difference might Brexit make?

Baroness Neville Rolfe, the Minister of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has stated that climate change will be at the heart of BEIS and the UK intends to ratify the Paris Agreement as soon as possible. The Government has also stated that it intends to continue to take part in EU negotiations on energy and climate change.

Some commentators have questioned whether the UK will continue to participate in the Agreement or whether the Agreement itself may need to be rewritten after Brexit.  A brief by E3G on Brexit and the Paris Agreement, from June 2016, commented that the UK may need to separate its National Determined Contribution (NDC) from that of the EU but this will require a “recalibration” rather than any change to the architecture of the Agreement.  E3G also referred to the agreement between Iceland, the EU and its Member States to jointly meet their Kyoto Protocol targets, as a model that the UK could follow

In its most recent progress report to Parliament, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) has commented on both the Paris Agreement and the UK’s vote in favour of leaving the EU.  It notes that the latter does not alter the need to reduce emissions or the scale of that reduction, but might have an impact on how the UK’s carbon budgets are met. 

The Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change has recently launched an inquiry exploring the implications for UK energy policy of leaving the EU.

The following is the text of the Opposition Day Motion that is being debated:

That this House notes that the USA and China have both ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change; regrets that the Government has not accepted the Opposition’s offer of support for immediate commencement of domestic procedures to ratify the Paris Agreement; further notes that if the UK lags behind its G20 partners in ratifying the Paris Agreement it risks losing diplomatic influence on this crucial future security issue; recognises, in light of the EU referendum vote, the need to maintain a strong international standing and the risk of rising investment costs in UK energy infrastructure; and calls on the Government to publish by the end of next week a Command Paper on domestic ratification and to set out in a statement to this House the timetable to complete the ratification process by the end of 2016

Related Library briefings

House of Commons Library: Climate change: Ratifying the Paris Agreement

[1]     UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris Agreement Status of Ratification [6 September 2016]

[2]     European Scrutiny Committee, Twenty-seventh Report of Session 2015–16, HC 342-xxvi, 4 April 2016: para 7.5

[3]     CarbonBrief, Explainer: When will the European Union ratify the Paris Agreement, 23 June 2016

[4]     HC WA 38382 07 Jun 2016

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