Earth Day 2016 was a momentous and historic celebration of international climate policy.
The Paris Agreement, adopted last December, was signed by 175 countries, a record number of signers of an international agreement on a single day.
Fifteen countries, most of them small island developing states, took the next step of formally joining the Agreement; others indicated their intention to do so this year.
The UN signing ceremony showed growing momentum for climate action, underscored by the clear statement of many leaders, ministers and other officials that they are committed to a zero-carbon, climate-resilient future.
So what steps do we need to take to keep that momentum going – and accelerate it – over the coming months and years? Let’s start with three key tasks for 2016:
1. Accelerate domestic approval to join the Paris Agreement
After the signal of strong global support for the Paris Agreement at the April 22 signing ceremony, countries now should move quickly to join and bring the Agreement into effect.
For that to happen, at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must formally join the Agreement through ratification, acceptance or approval.
Over 40 countries either joined the Paris Agreement last week or committed to join early, together representing 49 percent of total emissions.
This includes major economies like the United States, China and Canada as well as least developed countries (LDCs) like Mali, which committed to join this year.
Other countries like Chile that have declared they will speed up their domestic approval processes to join as soon as possible, perhaps as early as this year.
Recent dramatic climate impacts – including record heat, damaging droughts and floods and extreme weather events – underscore the urgency of getting the Agreement into force as soon as possible.
Early entry into force would also show political alignment behind climate action and signal to markets and investors the accelerating pace of the low-carbon economy.
2. Implement the nationally determined contributions
Many countries have started implementing the climate commitments they submitted in Paris: Morocco opened one of the world’s largest solar power plants, India is increasing its renewable energy capacity and the U.S. and Canada jointly committed to stricter regulation of methane emissions.
This forward movement will get even greater traction when countries formally join the Paris Agreement and turn their INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) into NDCs, going beyond intentions toward action.
To get there, countries need to draw up roadmaps for how they will fulfill their commitments, including details on specific sectors such as energy, forests and cities, including plans for investment.
To make national plans stronger, international cooperative that were launched in Paris initiatives – such as those involving cities, forests and businesses – should be aligned to support NDCs.
Meanwhile, countries’ national roadmaps should help countries reach the long-term goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The United States, Germany and Canada have said they will develop mid-century low emissions plans, and other countries should follow that lead, with appropriate support provided for those that need it.
3. Implement the Paris Agreement
Getting countries’ NDCs on the road to implementation is a great start, but that alone won’t get the world where it needs to be by midcentury.
Looking toward the end of the 21st century, the Agreement aims to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) over pre-industrial levels – and even requires that countries pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F).
To put us on track, the Paris Agreement requires that Parties increase their actions and support over time, while also mobilizing investment and other support.
To achieve this, actions and support by countries must be transparent, accountable and fair.
Achieving these goals will require developing effective mechanisms to spur more ambitious mitigation and adaptation efforts, accelerate the shift to low-carbon investment, foster innovation, transfer technology and build the necessary capacity to transform climate action.
The Paris Agreement put in place a strong foundation and solid framework.
Now countries have to decide on the details for implementing the Agreement so that we have an effective structure to live in for decades to come.
COP 22 in Morocco in November will be an important step toward moving these agendas forward.
It will also be a moment to demonstrate concrete steps to galvanize climate action through enhanced capacity building, a clear roadmap for mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 – including adaptation finance – and an assessment of progress made to reduce emissions before 2020 and ways countries can cope with the costly impacts generated by rising global temperatures.
Meanwhile, there are real-world signs that the transition and transformation to a zero-carbon economy is well underway.
Investments in renewable energy are climbing, despite low oil prices. More countries, regions and cities are joining in carbon pricing or trading.
Increasingly, economic growth is disconnected – decoupled – from rising greenhouse gas emissions.
2016 offers so many opportunities for great strides forward toward climate action.
While national governments and other institutions work through the UNFCCC to bring the Paris Agreement to life, other international gatherings – the G7, G20, the Montreal Protocol, International Civil Aviation, and the UN General Assembly– also have the chance to address the climate challenge.
If we tackle these key tasks this year, we will put in motion a low-carbon, climate-resilient future that will enable us to avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.
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