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Much Ado About Nothing
Paris Climate Deal Inches Closer to an Iota of Relevance

Ban Ki-Moon has apparently made it something of a personal mission to get the Paris climate agreement on the books by the time he leaves his post as the UN secretary general at the end of the year, and spent much of his time at the latest meeting of the UN General Assembly cajoling leaders into hurrying expediting their national approval process of the international deal.

It seems he was largely successful, too, if you’re willing to take the 14 countries—including the UK’s new Theresa May government—that pledged to “ratify” the agreement by years’ end at their word. The addition of those signatories would bring the consensus up past the requirements for the deal to be enacted, both in terms of the number of countries that will have gotten on board (minimum of 55) and the percentage of global emissions they’ll need to collectively represent (again, a minimum of 55). Reuters reports:

The deal, agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris last December, needs ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to take effect. Ban said the 60 countries represented more than 47.5 percent.

The United Nations said 14 countries, representing 12.58 percent of emissions, have committed to joining the agreement in 2016, which would allow the threshold of 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to be reached.

But let’s not kid ourselves, making the Paris deal official won’t make it “binding,” as the NYT suggests, for the simple fact that there are absolutely no enforcement mechanisms that will keep countries honest to the national emissions reduction plans (called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs) they’ll be told to submit to the UN. Naming and shaming is the best delegates were able to scrape together on that front last December, but that won’t mean much when push comes to shove and countries have to make difficult decisions between disparate economic and environmental considerations.

Ban Ki-Moon and the rest of the national and UN delegates involved in getting the Paris deal past the “ratification” phase can pat each other on the back til their hands are sore—and we don’t doubt that they will—but it won’t change the fact that this “treaty” is worth little more than the paper it’s printed on.

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