Kerry Thanks ‘Warriors for the Planet’ As Paris Climate Accord Nears Implementation

By Patrick Goodenough | September 22, 2016 | 4:14am EDT
Secretary of State John Kerry addresses a high-level event on the entry into force of the Paris climate agreement, at U.N. headquarters on Wednesday, September 21, 2016. (UN Photo/Cia Pak)

( – As the Paris climate agreement edged closer to entering into force – which many advocates hope will occur before the possibility of a Trump presidency – Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday thanked what he called “warriors for the planet” as the second-to-last hurdle on the path to that achievement was cleared.

Addressing the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” that the most ambitious climate deal yet negotiated will enter into force before the next U.N. climate megaconference, which starts in Marrakech, Morocco on November 7 – one day before the U.S. election.

He ascribed that confidence to conversations he and President Obama have had with leaders of several “key countries.”

The Paris agreement enters into force 30 days after two milestones are achieved – ratification by at least 55 countries, and ratification by countries accounting for at least 55 percent of global emissions of “greenhouse gases” (GHG) blamed for climate change.

Kerry was speaking on the day the first of those hurdles was cleared: At an event hosted by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, 31 countries deposited their instruments of ratification (or equivalent) with the U.N., taking the total number having done so to 60.

Most of the 31 countries account for small proportions of global GHG emissions, although they included three relatively large emitters – Brazil (responsible for 2.48 percent of total emissions), Mexico (1.7 percent) and Argentina (0.89 percent).

With those ratifications the total emissions of countries now having joined reached 47.76 percent, meaning the second and final target – 55 percent of global emissions – is just 7.24 percent away.

That deficit could be closed with the addition of just a small group of countries. Japan (3.79 percent), Canada (1.95 percent), Australia (1.46 percent) and Indonesia (1.49 percent), for example, are among at least 14 countries not yet onboard that have undertaken to ratify the Paris accord before the end of the year.

The Paris agreement could never have reached its 55/55 target had the U.S. (17.89 percent) and China (20.09 percent) not formally joined it. (Kerry reminded his global audience that the countries were the “two largest emitters in the world, I regret to say.”)

That formal joining occurred early this month, on the sidelines of a G20 summit in China: President Obama took the step by executive order, angering congressional critics, while President Xi Jinping did so after consideration by his country’s rubberstamp legislature.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has pledged to walk away from the Paris accord if he becomes president. But if the agreement enters into force before a President Trump was inaugurated, withdrawal would be a long and slow process, since the agreement states that no party may withdraw within the first three years of its entry into force.

If on the other hand a President Trump entered the Oval Office before the accord entered into force, he would not be tied to that requirement and could withdraw the U.S. immediately if he chose to do so.

For global warning activists the race is on: Taking into account the 30-day delay, the final 55 percent threshold would need to be met before December 20, in order for the agreement to enter into force before the next American president takes office a month later. That countdown has been discussed by lawmakers in at least one country that has yet to join the agreement.

The Paris accord aims to keep average temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, in a bid to avoid what advocates claim could be potentially catastrophic effects on the planet. Its elements include the provision of $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries by the year 2020.

In his remarks Wednesday, Kerry doubled down on his long-stated warnings about climate change.

The feeling of satisfaction about the achievement of the Paris agreement, he said, “is tempered by the knowledge that those of us who have worked in this vineyard for a long time know that even as we mobilized on this issue, even as we advocated over so many years, even as we pointed to the science that motivated us and spurred our efforts, even as we negotiated in Paris, we were aware that with each passing day the problem that we confronted and continue to confront was growing worse.”

“Each day, the course that our planet is on has become more dangerous, and the alarming findings have only continued since the agreement was gaveled in,” Kerry continued, pointing to a string of record hottest months.

“So if ever anybody doubted science, all they have to do is watch, feel, sense what is happening in the world today,” he said, citing issues including “climate refugees,” powerful storm surges, and the existence of “diseases that used to die because it got cold, and it doesn’t get cold.”

Kerry concluded his remarks on an upbeat note, saying if the necessary steps were taken, his listeners would have a story they would be proud to tell future generations.

“It will be a story of how the world came together in the greatest aspirations of United Nations – of this institution – to embrace this moment and to safeguard the future of this planet for generations to come,” he said.

“That is this mission, nothing less, and we intend to get the job done,” Kerry added. “Thank you, warriors for the planet.”

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