International Treaties and Recovery after COVID-19

On September 27th, 2020, world leaders from 64 nations signed the voluntary Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.  This international agreement committed these nations to addressing the climate crisis, biodiversity loss, and pollution as part of their post-COVID economic recovery plans.  Signatory nations included Bangladesh, Costa Rica, France, Germany, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, and the U.K. Conspicuous in their absence were Australia, China, Brazil, India, and the U.S.[1]

The Leaders’ Pledge for Nature served as a prelude to the U.N. Biodiversity Summit on September 30th.  Nearly 150 nations met virtually to discuss the extensive global loss of biodiversity, and to build political capital for a biodiversity agreement at next year’s Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) meeting.  Interestingly, between September 27th and 30th, ten more nations signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.[2]

Contrary to the belief of critics, these international agreements make a vital impact on the health of our planet and public health.  The best example is the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.  The Montreal Protocol is the only international treaty ratified by all 197 U.N. members.  It requires the phase-out of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) by 2047, with varying timetables for developed and developing countries.  Thanks to the Montreal Protocol, the ozone layer is set to recover by 2050 and an estimated two million people will be saved from skin cancer every year by 2030. Because many ODS are also greenhouse gases, it is estimated that the Montreal Protocol decreased greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by the equivalent of 135 gigatons of CO2 from 1990 to 2010.[3]

Key aspects of the Montreal Protocol can be used to improve the Paris Climate Agreement and the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature.  Hashed out in 2015, the Paris Climate Agreement voluntarily committed the world to limiting the global temperature increase to no more than 2o C by 2100.  The agreement went into effect in November 2016 and was approved by 179 nations, including the U.S.  Through President Trump’s efforts, the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement.  However, when President-elect Biden takes office, the U.S. could rejoin the agreement within a month.[4]   Many U.S. states are already moving towards their own climate goals that closely align with the Paris Agreement.  For example, the U.S. Climate Alliance, an independent coalition of 25 states, has committed to enacting policies that would meet the  agreement’s goals.[5]  

Unlike the Montreal Protocol, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Leaders’ Pledge do not have legally binding timetables for specific goals.  Under the Montreal Protocol, funds were dedicated through four international U.N. agencies to assist developing countries with reducing their ODS output.  The Paris Agreement simply encourages developed nations to contribute funds to GHG reductions, but it does not legally bind them to provide funding.

To ensure the effectiveness of the Paris Climate Agreement, the U.N. should take steps to strengthen it with legally binding goals and timelines.  Guaranteed financial mechanisms should be set up to assist developing countries with their transitions to green economies.  These changes could be accomplished through amendments to the original agreement.  With these amendments, nations would be able to incorporate climate change mitigation and the reversal of biodiversity loss into their post-COVID economic recovery plans.  We can leave behind a far better world for future generations, if we have the political willpower to do so.






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