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World leaders ‘need to go beyond’ Paris climate agreement

Timothy A. Clary, AFP | French President François Hollande speaks at the signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement at the United Nations on April 22, 2016.

A total of 175 countries took part in the historic signing of the Paris climate agreement on Friday, but activists warned that states need to be even more ambitious in cutting their greenhouse gas emissions.


US Secretary of State John Kerry was joined by French President François Hollande, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and representatives from other countries for a historic ceremony at the United Nations, the largest ever one-day signing of an international agreement.

Friday was the first available day for signing of the Paris Agreement, which was hailed as an environment policy milestone in December after years of diplomatic deadlock.

“The fact that so many countries signed the agreement means we are making history, and that’s good. But we just had the hottest March ever, and scientists say 2016 will probably be the warmest year on record, again,” Samantha Smith, head of the Global Climate and Energy Initiative for the World Wildlife Fund, told FRANCE 24.

Scientists and environmental groups warn that shifting global temperatures are already taking a toll on vulnerable communities and ecosystems across the planet, and could lead to major crop failures, coastal flooding and natural disasters in the future.

Before and during December’s COP 21 conference in Paris, governments submitted their own targets – known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs – for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Once they have signed the Paris Agreement at the UN, countries will then need to formally approve it through their parliaments or other domestic procedures, and implement strategies for reaching their INDCs.

“We need this kind of political will, but now we need countries to take much more ambitious actions at the national level,” said Smith.

Technology is key

Sanjay Vashist, director of Climate Action Network South Asia, welcomed Friday’s signing as “good news,” and also expressed hope countries will go even further.

Research has shown the initial INDCs set in Paris don't match the agreement's long-term goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius, compared with pre-industrial times.

The most recent report by the Washington DC-based Climate Interactive research group says based on the Paris pledges temperatures will still rise by 3.5 degrees Celsius. A separate analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a European group, projected warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius.

Vashist said that as the curtain fell on the signing ceremony at the UN, it would be “very crucial” to quickly establish mechanisms for countries to reach, and improve, their INDCs.

This included the transfer of clean energy technology and finance from wealthy countries to poorer ones.

During the Paris conference Western governments pledged billions to help developing nations deal with the devastating droughts, flooding and other effects of global warming, but also to scale up their green energy capabilities.

Resolving questions over technology patents and royalties would help make clean energy more accessible to developing countries, Vashist said, arguing that this was in many cases much more important than offering money.

“To take the example of India, the country has pledged to greatly increase reliance on solar and wind power, but these remain very expensive to develop and we are still struggling,” he said. “If India is confident that it will have access to technology, I think it can raise its ambitions two or three times in the next 10 years.”

Ahead of schedule

The treaty will officially enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions have formally joined it, with some people now expressing hope that it could do so much earlier than the original deadline of 2020.

The United States and China, which together account for nearly 40 percent of global emissions, have said they intend to join this year.

Vanisht said Indian lawmakers “do not want to take the burden of other polluters”, but expressed confidence that they would ratify the agreement in a year’s time.

WWF’s Samantha Smith insisted there was no time to waste.

“World leaders will not be able to forget about climate change now. We are already at levels of danger that no one could have imagined,” she said.

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