October 2016

Paris Agreement Ratification and Entry into Force: Practical Considerations for Africa


178792-486Photo credit: UN Photo/Tim Mckulka

The historic Paris Agreement on climate change will enter into force on Friday 4 November 2016, a month after the threshold was met of at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of the total global emissions depositing their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession to the international treaty.

14 African countries contributing 1.29 percent of total global emissions, and top emitters such as the United States of America, China and India were among the 75 states that helped secure the deal’s entry into force by covering 58.2 percent of total emissions.

As of 25 October 2016, 16 African countries have ratified the Agreement, committing to take bold national actions to address climate change and its effects.

What does ratification mean for Parties?

In the run up to the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference, countries communicated to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat their intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs).

These are voluntary climate targets that each country intends to meet from 2020 onwards to contribute towards reducing global emissions and adapting to climate change to reduce poverty and vulnerability.

Once a country ratifies the Paris Agreement these intentions become legally binding commitments, and the state is expected to communicate its first NDC no later than when its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession has been submitted, and every five years thereafter.

The Paris process in Africa

The second implicit INDCs submission deadline of 1 October 2015 was very tight for most African countries. Challenges included international funding delays resulting in rushed and less thorough national consultation processes, lack of high quality credible data, lack of technical capacity and misconceptions that submitting INDCs was tied to future access to development aid. 

I witnessed this for myself in March 2016 as I conducted private sector consultations in one African country where over 95 percent of companies professed ignorance of the country’s INDCs at the time.

 What should the 38 African countries that have not yet ratified consider?

The early entry into force of the Paris Agreement presents both challenges and opportunities.

Countries that have not yet ratified might already be under political pressure to do so, as they can only participate as observers without voting rights at the first Paris Agreement governing body meeting set for this November at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

After signature but before ratification, a country has the opportunity to review and/or revise its INDC, making it more ambitious and realistic or simply stating strategies, plans and actions as is the case for the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDs).

Countries should seize the small window of opportunity before ratification to make sure that their NDCs are fully aligned with their respective national development plans and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and that key players at technical and political levels are fully consulted and have their say on national targets and associated cost estimates for implementation.  

Key line ministries, private sector, civil society organisations (CSOs), parliament, judiciary, cities and sub-national level authorities should be fully on board. Ministries of Finance and/or Economic Planning, financial institutions including the insurance sector, the science and technology community, national think tanks and academia are important for the dialogue on means of implementation – finance, technology and capacity. Countries should already have taken steps to access capacity building support from the Paris Agreement Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency.

Countries should state clearly in their NDCs what they are capable of doing on their own (unconditional) and with international support (conditional). This important information is missing in most African INDCs as analyzed in the USAID White Paper on INDCs.

The quantification of adaptation costs is particularly important for African countries considering the continent’s vulnerability to climate change.  

What about those that have ratified?

The entry into force of the Paris Agreement four years earlier than expected means that the NDC targets may no longer be achievable given the shifted timeline, and it may be possible and necessary to revise the national targets to make them more realistic and ambitious yet achievable.

As part of its broader work to address the challenges of climate change, UNDP has developed guidance and support tools to assist countries prepare for ratification of the Paris Agreement and NDC implementation. For more information on the status of ratification of the Paris Agreement, visit the UNFCCC tracker.

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