UPDATE: On October 5, the United Nations proudly announced that enough countries had agreed to the Paris Agreement for it to go into effect, 30 days from now. That's great. But if you are a bit confused about what exactly this news means, fear not. I'm here to break it all down.
What is the Paris Agreement, again?
The Paris Agreement is an international convention that seeks to limit the increase in global average temperature. Right now, we're close to 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures (the average temperatures prior to the 1900s), and rising, but this treaty aims to prevent the global average temperature from warming beyond 1.5°C—and never reach 2°C—above pre-industrial levels.
It would do this by having participating nations set individual goals to help reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and crank back our reliance on fossil fuels.
How are they going to do that?
Each country sets its own plan, called a nationally determined contribution, on how it will achieve certain goals, and they're all different. China, for example, pledged to curb its emissions by 2030, increase the use of non-fossil fuels to 20 percent of its energy consumption, and build up its forests.
I thought everyone signed that back in April?
The agreement was created by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which adopted it last December. In March, the agreement was distributed to member nations of the UN, and on April 22, 175 nations signed the agreement.
But, the agreement doesn't actually go into effect unless at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ratify their decision to join. Belize ratified its signature the same day, but other nations have been slowly ratifying the decision over the last few months.
What does that mean?
Basically, delegates have to go back to their home nations and make sure their home governments are on board with the agreement, and that individual nation's contributions.
Where can I find out if my country has signed or ratified?
What happened in September?
In September, a crapload of nations all ratified on the same day: 31 in total. At that point, we had 60 nations that have ratified the decision, which surpasses the 55 nation limit, but only represented 47.76 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
Cool, so we're still waiting?
Not anymore! In October, the European Union signed on, bumping us over the greenhouse gas emission minimum. In 30 days, on November 4, the agreement goes into effect.
What happens then?
At that point, "the mechanics of the treaty kick in," said Daniel Shepard, an information officer for the UN.
"Those countries that have ratified are basically saying they agree to be bound by the agreement," Shepard told me. Nations that have signed, but not yet ratified, aren't bound by the agreement until they take that next step. The idea is that, even after it goes into effect, the rest of the signatories will ratify. Since April, 16 additional countries have signed the agreement, bringing the total number of nations to 191.
Are they going to ratify too?
Ideally, especially because some of the world's biggest greenhouse gas emitters have signed but not yet ratified. Countries like Russia, which is responsible for 6 percent of global emissions, but hasn't formally pledged to ratify anytime soon. And since there are questions about how realistic the plans brought forward by some countries are, the more nations we can get on board, the more likely we are to reach our goal.
Is the world saved, then?
This is one of the most historic agreements nations have ever signed to fight climate change, and the fact that it's getting put into motion fairly quickly is a good sign. But we're still a long, long way from a guaranteed solution, so stay woke.