UN’s outgoing climate chief says late change to text means agreement could be enforced well before 2020, raising hopes world can avoid dangerous climate change
By Ed King
The Paris Agreement to tackle global warming could come into effect two years earlier than originally planned, the UN’s top climate official said on Monday.
“You heard it here first. I think we will have [it] in effect by 2018,” Christiana Figueres told an audience at Imperial College, London.
Late in last December’s UN talks, a collective decision was made to scrub references to 2020 as a start date for the deal said Figueres, who leaves her post in July.
The deal saw 195 countries agree to limit warming to well below 2C above industrial levels, and target a new aspirational ceiling of 1.5C long argued for by small island states.
It will come into effect when 55 countries covering 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions sign and ratify the agreement at the UN.
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Figueres said she expects more than 130 countries to ink their support when it’s opened for approval on 22 April, and at least 10 to ratify it on the same day.
“We think there may be more but let’s see what happens on 22 April,” she said.
The US, India and China have already indicated they will formally approve the agreement before the end of 2016, which would cover over 46% of global emissions.
But the Costa Rican warned against complacency from governments. The Paris Agreement was “ten years too late”, she said, adding “we are two minutes to midnight”.
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To meet the new UN treaty’s goal of reducing emissions to net zero in the second half of the century, releases of CO2 and other heat-trapping gases need to peak by 2020, she said.
That would require governments to make tougher carbon cuts than currently planned, according to analysis by experts at Climate Action Tracker, who say emissions are on track to peak in the 2030s.
Failure to meet this challenge could lead to a “systemically uninsurable” world where droughts, floods and extreme weather events become commonplace, she said.
“Paris is only a blueprint – difficult as it was it took the entire world to contribute – that was the easy part,” said Figueres.
“Now we come to the difficult part. Now we have to be intentional about every investment… are we making a choice towards more carbon?
“If you are still putting your money into high carbon, I’m sorry, you are going to lose your money,” she added.