What you need to know about the Paris Agreement

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    You don’t have to be a policy expert to understand what’s happening with the Paris Agreement. It’s pretty simple. Today, the international Earth day, a lot of countries are expected to be represented at the UN’s headquarter in New York for the signing ceremony of the agreement.

    The agreement becomes one step closer to having legal effect around the world, as the 195 countries that adopted the agreement in December can begin signing it at a special UN ceremony. Now while it was adopted in December, meaning 195 countries agreed on its contents and a final draft. It was then translated into all six official UN languages and announced clerical errors were fixed. This final version must now be signed by countries, who then ratify it according to their own domestic procedures.

    As of now, over 150 countries have already said they will sign the Paris Agreement which would set the record for highest number of countries signing an international agreement on its opening day. Nigeria has not yet indicated if it will be adding its signature to that list.

    According to Article 21.1 of the Paris Agreement, the agreement enters into force 30 days after the date on which at least 55 Parties (the UN’s name for countries signing the document) accounting for at least an estimated 55 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have ratified it and submitted that ratification to the UN. Countries can sign the agreement from April 22, 2016 to April 21, 2017 (Article 20.1). After signing, countries have to officially approve the agreement at home, and each will have its own process for doing so. There is no deadline for domestic approval.

    The Paris Agreement is meant to signal the beginning of the end of more than 100 years of fossil fuels serving as the primary engine of economic growth and shows that governments from around the world take climate change seriously. The inclusion of both developed and developing countries, including those that rely on revenue from oil and gas production, demonstrates a unity never seen before on this issue.

    The deal requires any country that ratifies it to act to stem its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming century, with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible” and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. Countries will aim to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F).

    The deal will also encourage trillions of dollars of capital to be spent adapting to the effects of climate change—including infrastructure like sea walls and programs to deal with poor soil—and developing renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.

    The agreement gives countries considerable leeway in determining how to cut their emissions but mandates that they report transparently on those efforts. Every five years nations will be required to assess their progress towards meeting their climate commitments and submit new plans to strengthen them.

    Despite the many supporters of the agreement, some have criticized the deal as too weak and for not providing enough support for developing countries. Friends of the Earth U.S. President Erich Pica said the agreement is “not a fair, just or science-based deal” because it fails to adequately address losses due to climate change in the most vulnerable countries. Nigeria’s leading environmentalist, Nnimmo Bassey says the agreement doesn’t even mention fossil fuel or addresses major polluters.

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