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Energy and Environment

John Kerry is 'more and more confident' Paris climate deal will come into force soon

September 14, 2016 at 8:00 AM

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon embraces U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who holds his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle Dobbs-Higginson, after signing the Paris Agreement on climate change at United Nations Headquarters in April. (Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

Secretary of State John F. Kerry thinks that the race to bring the Paris climate agreement into force could succeed as early as next week at a United Nations summit, less than a year after it was negotiated, thus speeding up global efforts to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.

"There's been a real push to make that happen," Kerry said in an interview with The Washington Post this week in his office at the State Department, as he geared up for the opening of this week's Our Ocean conference, which focuses substantially on climate change. "I know the president has been talking to people; we've been talking to people everywhere. I'm feeling more and more confident that we can get this thing done this year."

For the agreement to "enter into force," 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must ratify or otherwise officially join the accord. So far, 28 countries, representing around 41.5 percent of global emissions, have done so. That includes several very big emitters: The United States (17.89 percent), China (20.09 percent), and Brazil (2.48 percent). (A list of countries and how much they emit annually can be found here.)

There has been a major focus on bringing the agreement, negotiated last December in Paris, into force rapidly because of the urgency of the climate-change problem. But Obama administration officials have an additional reason for pushing to make the deal a reality. The agreement's language suggests that once it has achieved this legal status of entering into force, a future President Trump, who has said he would withdraw from the agreement, would not be able to do so for at least four years.

Related: [Brazil just ratified the Paris climate agreement. Here’s why that’s a really big deal]

Hillary Clinton is widely expected to continue President Obama's climate policies and embraces the Paris agreement. Donald Trump has said he would "cancel" it.

Kerry, who said he brings the subject up in every bilateral meeting, mentioned speaking recently with leaders from a number of other large emitting countries whose participation could dramatically help drive the deal into force — India (4.1 percent), the Russian Federation (7.53 percent), and Saudi Arabia (0.8 percent).

"I met with [Indian prime minister Narendra] Modi and talked to him at length about it. And I'm quite confident based on the conversations we had there and that the president had with him in China, I feel confident India will do its part," Kerry said. "He's very climate conscious. He's very dedicated and committed, and it's very much in the value system of India. I think India wants to do its part."

Kerry also mentioned that he had talked with officials in Russia and Saudi Arabia about their efforts to ratify the Paris climate accord.

Next week in New York, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is convening world leaders for a ratification event that is expected to end with a number of other countries joining the agreement. Ban, whose term expires at the end of this year, has made combating climate change a central focus of his tenure.

Related: [Why outgoing U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon was willing to bet big on a climate change deal]

"From day one, I made climate change the top priority," the bespectacled diplomat told The Post in an interview earlier this year. "There were many crises around the world. … But I thought that all these crises, these political crises, could be solved," he said, in part by a global effort to stave off the crippling droughts, rising seas and extreme weather events that were helping to fuel conflicts.

Ban has kept a spotlight on the issue and has said he is determined to see the climate accord enter into force this year, possibly by next week.

Kerry didn't explicitly commit to the idea that there will be enough action for the world to reach the 55 percent threshold at that U.N. event, but he said he believes the momentum created by the United States, China and other countries who have signed on will encourage other countries to follow suit.

"Into October, I think we'll have some announcements, and even into November and December," he said. "I think that countries will go through a ratification process, and I think that [the meeting in] New York will give it a little more impetus. I think that some people will not want to be left out. They won't want to be the spoilers. I think the pressure will grow a little bit, I hope. Look, my job is to be optimistic and wishful, right?"


Chris Mooney covers climate change, energy, and the environment. He has reported from the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, the Northwest Passage, and the Greenland ice sheet, among other locations, and has written four books about science, politics and climate change.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues. He previously spent years covering the nation’s economy. Dennis was a finalist for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for a series of explanatory stories about the global financial crisis.

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