UN tackles climate change

Paris accord set to come into force

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon presides over the starting session of the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, on Sept 20.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon presides over the starting session of the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, on Sept 20. PHOTO: REUTERS

Secretary-General personally garnered needed support from world leaders

UNITED NATIONS • UN Secretary- General Ban Ki Moon was expected to announce yesterday that he has secured enough commitments from world leaders to ensure that the 2015 Paris climate accord will enter into legal force this year.

The milestone is within reach in large part because Mr Ban, who sees the climate deal as a centrepiece of his legacy, began a sustained push to win the formal approval of 55 countries representing 55 per cent of global emissions - the threshold needed to put the accord into force.

He pressed the issue personally with dozens of world leaders and with legislative bodies, including those in Russia and his native South Korea.

The UN had said that 30 states, including Singapore, would submit their ratification at the UN General Assembly. Currently, there are 185 signatories to the Paris Agreement. Of these, 29 states have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval, accounting in total for 40.12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The accord approached its legally binding threshold this month after the United States and China, which together account for nearly 40 per cent of emissions, jointly announced that they would legally join the deal. The ratification by 30 other countries is likely to push the pact past the threshold for it to come into force.

Among the other countries to submit their ratification at the General Assembly were Latin American heavyweights Argentina, Brazil and Mexico. Others included Bangladesh, Thailand and major fossil fuel power the United Arab Emirates.

URGENT NEED

We have no time. I urge you to bring the Paris Agreement into force this year.

UN SECRETARY- GENERAL BAN KI MOON

Complex and controversial international accords usually take several years to enter into legal force. But the haste on the Paris accord was driven, at least in part, by the looming American election.

Mr Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, has vowed to pull the US out of the accord if he is elected. If the deal comes into legal force before the presidential inauguration, it will take four years under the accord's rules for the US to withdraw legally. That would keep the country bound to the measure through the first term of the next administration.

"We have no time," Mr Ban said, addressing the General Assembly on Tuesday. "I urge you to bring the Paris Agreement into force this year."

A breakthrough in the quest for quick ratification came this month when the European Union (EU), which represents about 10 per cent of global warming emissions, set an Oct 9 vote to join the agreement, with or without action by its member states.

The bloc has pledged under the Paris Agreement to cut its emissions by 40 per cent from 1990 levels by 2030, but not all of its 28 member states are yet prepared to approve their individual climate pledges.

Another concern had been Britain's vote to leave the EU, which advocates of the Paris deal feared would complicate the bloc's ratification process and raise questions about Britain's own climate policy. But Mrs Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister, pledged before the General Assembly on Tuesday that her government, too, would legally join the Paris Agreement this year.

"The Paris Agreement gives a framework to act, but there must be a sense of urgency about bringing the agreement into force," US President Barack Obama said on Tuesday in his last address as head of state to the General Assembly.

Still an open question is the timetables of the world's three other major polluters: India, which accounts for about 7 per cent of emissions, Russia, which produces about 5 per cent, and Japan, which produces about 3 per cent.

NYTIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2016, with the headline 'Paris accord set to come into force'. Print Edition | Subscribe