US's return to Paris Agreement a step in right direction

US's return to Paris Agreement a step in right direction

Pearnel Charles Jr

Thursday, January 21, 2021

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The Paris Agreement occupies a seminal place in history as the single-largest show of global political solidarity for climate action, with 111 countries ratifying its terms within a year. Notably, the premise of solidarity and the notion of the common heritage of mankind were also the foundations of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which gave birth to the agreement.

In addition to its function of galvanising world leaders and countries, the agreement has also been groundbreaking in facilitating various initiatives designed to limit global emissions and regulate Earth's temperature, including the development of national climate plans, the growth of renewable technologies, and the emergence of green financing.

This explains the anxiety in the climate community surrounding the announcement in 2018 that the US Administration intended to withdraw from the agreement, which it formally did in November 2020. As one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, and as a developed country with both financial and technological resources, America's support in fighting climate change is critical to significantly moving the needle.

Jamaica's position has always been that individual State parties have a sovereign right to determine how they want to participate in the Paris Agreement. However, we also maintain that major polluters, or big emitters, should contribute to the global efforts to stem climate change because lives and the livelihoods of vulnerable populations, including those in small island developing states (SIDS), depend on it.

In that regard, we welcome not only the re-engagement of the US in the Paris Agreement, but the strength of the team — led by John Kerry, who signed the agreement on the US's behalf in 2015 — that the new Administration has assembled to lead the charge and drive their agenda.

We also anticipate greater support from the US for climate finance in general, particularly the replenishment of the Green Climate Fund, since the financing of climate action in SIDS suffered with the lack of continuous contribution from the US.

The fact is that the state of the world on account of climate change has been unfolding more rapidly and intensely than scientists had previously projected. The implications, particularly for small island states like Jamaica, are increasingly stark. The intense rainfall of October and November 2020 which devastated our already fragile economy, environment, and social systems is but one example of that reality.

The evidence is overwhelming in its indication that tackling the impacts of climate change requires global, coordinated effort on three fronts:

1) drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (climate change mitigation);

2) supporting developing countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change; and

3) averting, minimising and addressing loss and damage associated with extreme climate events (such as hurricanes and floods) or slow onset ones (such as sea level rise and biodiversity loss).

Cross-cutting all three is increased financing, capacity-building, as well as technical and technological support.

The return of the US to the Paris Agreement is therefore an important step in the right direction, and we look forward to the Administration's continued engagement in the negotiations and other processes.

Pearnel Charles Jr is minister of housing, urban renewal, environment and climate change.

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