Paris climate accord closer after UN meeting

September 21, 2016 7:58 pm
Smoke belches from a coal-fired power station near Datong, in China’s northern Shanxi province © AFP/File / Greg Baker

, United Nations, United States, Sep 21 – The landmark Paris agreement on climate change moved closer to reality Wednesday after 31 countries joined during the United Nations General Assembly.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced confidence that the accord, through which countries commit to take action to stem the planet’s rising temperatures, would come into force by the end of the year.

“The momentum is remarkable,” said the outgoing UN chief, who convened a meeting on the Paris accord during the annual UN gathering of leaders.

“When the Paris agreement enters into force this year, it will be a major step forward on our journey for a more secure, more equitable and more prosperous future,” Ban said.

The countries that joined the accord on Wednesday included Latin American powerhouses Argentina, Brazil and Mexico as well as major fossil fuel powers Brunei and the United Arab Emirates.

To come into force, the Paris agreement needs ratification from 55 countries that account for at least 55 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions responsible for climate change.

With Wednesday’s event, in which leaders ceremonially ratified the accord, a total of 60 countries have joined the Paris accord but they account for less than 48 percent of global emissions.

– Calls for more ambition –

The accord requires all countries to devise plans to achieve the goal of keeping the rise of temperatures within two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

But Edgar Gutierrez, the environment and energy minister of Costa Rica, said that the level was not ambitious enough in light of evidence of worse-than-feared climate change, with last month yet again setting a record for the hottest month ever.

Progression of temperatures in August since 1880, compared to the average for the 20th century, with details of August data © AFP / Alain Bommenel, Sabrina Blanchard

Gutierrez called for countries to aim for 1.5 Celsius and warned that even a one-year delay in implementing the Paris accord could be too late for the planet.

“Climate change is already dangerous, it has already exceeded the capacity of many countries to adapt to it, we have already lost lives, we are losing species and we have lost lands and buildings,” said Gutierrez, speaking on behalf of a troika of climate-vulnerable nations including Ethiopia and the Philippines.

Mattlan Zackhras, a senior official from the Marshall Islands, warned that despite pledges under the Paris accord the planet still looked on track for a rise of three degrees.

“This will wipe out my country and many island-states in the Pacific,” he told reporters.

– Europe set to seal accord –

Ban’s office said that 14 other countries accounting for 12.58 percent of emissions had signaled they would ratify the accord this year, meaning the agreement is virtually certain to come into force, barring a widespread change of heart.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon speaks the United Nations during the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement September 21, 2016 © AFP / Don Emmert

The European Union will enter the agreement “in the next weeks,” Miguel Arias Canete, the 28-member bloc’s commissioner for climate action and energy, told reporters.

Adriano Campolina, chief executive of the charity ActionAid, was puzzled why the European Union — the champions of the earlier Kyoto Protocol — had not moved earlier.

“In order to reclaim its role as a true climate leader it must take early action, before 2020, to ensure that keeping the world below 1.5 degree warming is not an elusive dream,” he said.

China and the United States, the two largest emitters, gave a major boost to the accord when they signed on during a summit earlier this month between Presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama.

French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, who heads the body behind the Paris accord, told AFP earlier in the week that she hoped it would come into force before the next UN climate meeting on November 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco.

That conference opens one day before the presidential election in the United States, in which Republican candidate Donald Trump has dismissed mainstream science on climate change and vowed to tear up the Paris accord if elected.


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