About 170 countries gathered at the United Nations for a ceremonial signing of the landmark Paris agreement on Friday, in a powerful display of global efforts to fight climate change.
A dozen countries – mainly the small island states at risk of being drowned by rising seas – said they would take the additional step on Friday of ratifying or granting legal approval to the agreement.
The renewed commitments, and the personal appearance at the UN by about 60 heads of state, delivered a sense of momentum to efforts to bring the agreement into force far earlier than had originally been hoped.
The agreement reached in Paris by 196 countries still needs formal approval from 55 countries representing 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions to come into force. In some cases, that means a vote in parliament.
The US, China and India – the three biggest climate polluters – have all committed to join the agreement, possibly as early as this year.
Leaders said the events on Friday were a sign that governments, business leaders and campaign groups were aligned with trying to move swiftly to phase out the use of fossil fuels and move almost entirely to clean sources of energy by the middle of the century.
“Today’s signing ceremony reaffirms the commitments made last December and delivers a jolt of energy to international climate efforts,” Felipe Calderón, the former president of Mexico, said.
The signature ceremony, kicked off by François Hollande, as host of the Paris climate talks, will be an elaborate affair. Leaders will make their way one-by-one in alphabetical order to a special podium at the General Assembly to sign the single copy of the agreement, translated into six languages.
Amid the celebratory atmosphere, with Leonardo DiCaprio scheduled to appear, leaders and scientists agreed: the measures covered by the Paris agreement still fall far short of reaching the goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5C to 2C above pre-industrial levels, and time is running out.
Last year was the hottest year since record keeping began in 1880. Temperatures for the first three months of this year have already demolished that record – confounding scientists by the scale and pace of temperature rise.
In the Arctic, there was almost no winter, with temperatures at the North Pole rising above freezing even in December, the depths of the polar night. Temperatures were 30C above normal.
On Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, some 93% of coral showed evidence of bleaching, because of long term ocean warming due to carbon emissions, and the El Niño weather phenomenon.