P.M. in New York for historical deal

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MAKING SAMOA’S CASE: P.M. Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi  in New York.

MAKING SAMOA’S CASE: P.M. Tuilaepa Sa'ilele Malielegaoi in New York. (Photo: UN.)

While the country braced for Cyclone Amos yesterday, Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Sa’ilele Malielegaoi, offered his prayers from New York.

He is among leaders from 175 countries gathering there to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change, as the landmark deal took a key step forward, potentially entering into force years ahead of schedule.

The signing took place yesterday, to commemorate Earth Day.

Speaking about the signing, the Samoan chief at the helm of the United Nations, Secretary General, Tupua Ban Ki-moon hailed the occasion as “historic progress.”

But he issued a warning. “We are in a race against time,” he said. “I urge all countries to move quickly to join the Agreement at the national level so that the Paris Agreement can enter into force as early as possible.

“The window for keeping global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius, let alone 1.5 degress, is rapidly closing.

“The era of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies.

And we must support developing countries in making this transition.

“The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create.

“Let us never forget -- climate action is not a burden; indeed, it offers many benefits.  It can help us eradicate poverty, create green jobs, defeat hunger, prevent instability and improve the lives of girls and women.

“Climate action is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

According to Tupua, many people contributed to the COP21 negotiations in Paris and to the preparations the event in New York. 

“Today is a day that I have worked toward since day one as Secretary-General of the United Nations and declared climate change to be my top priority.

“Today you are signing a new covenant with the future.

“This covenant must amount to more than promises.

“It must find expression in actions we take today on behalf of this generation and all future generations; actions that reduce climate risk and protect communities; actions that place us on a safer, smarter path.

 “This morning we will be joined by 197 children, representing the Parties that adopted the Paris Agreement.  Of course, they represent more than this. These young people are our future.  Our covenant is with them.

“Today is a day for our children and grandchildren and all generations to come. 

“Together, let us turn the aspirations of Paris into action. 

“As you show by the very act of signing today, the power to build a better world is in your hands. 

Tupua added that the Paris Agreement provides the policy certainty and clear direction requested by the private sector, civil society and local leaders. Now we must take climate action to the next level.

“By acting on climate, we advance the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda. National, state and provincial governments, cities, the private sector, investors, and the public at large – all are crucial to tackling the serious dangers posed by climate change.” 

Financial supported is also critical, Tupua said.

“Far more than $100 billion – indeed, trillions of dollars – is needed to realize a global, clean-energy economy.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his young granddaughter, joined dozens of world leaders for a signing ceremony that set a record for international diplomacy: Never have so many countries signed an agreement on the first available day. States that don't sign Friday have a year to do so.

Many now expect the climate agreement to enter into force long before the original deadline of 2020. Some say it could happen this year.

After signing, countries must formally approve the Paris Agreement through their domestic procedures. The United Nations says 15 countries, several of them small island states under threat from rising seas, did that Friday by depositing their instruments of ratification.

China, the world's top carbon emitter, announced it will "finalize domestic procedures" to ratify the Paris Agreement before the G-20 summit in China in September. Ban immediately welcomed the pledge.

Kerry said the United States "absolutely intends to join" the agreement this year. The world is watching anxiously: Analysts say that if the agreement enters into force before President Barack Obama leaves office in January, it would be more complicated for his successor to withdraw from the deal because it would take four years to do so under the agreement's rules.

China's climate envoy, Xie Zhenhua, said his government hopes the United States will join the climate agreement "as soon as possible."

The United States put the deal into economic terms. "The power of this agreement is what it is going to do to unleash the private sector," Kerry told the gathering, noting that this year is again shaping up to be the hottest year on record.

The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions have formally joined it.

An analysis by the Washington-based World Resources Institute found that at least 25 countries representing 45 percent of global emissions joined the agreement Friday or committed to joining it early.

French President Francois Hollande, the first to sign the agreement, said he will ask parliament to ratify it by this summer. France's environment minister is in charge of global climate negotiations.

"There is no turning back now," Hollande told the gathering.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also announced that his country would ratify the agreement this year. Other countries that said Friday they intend to join the agreement this year include Mexico and Australia.

The climate ceremony brought together a wide range of states that on other issues might sharply disagree. North Korea's foreign minister made a rare U.N. appearance to sign Friday, and Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe brought applause when he declared, "Life itself is at stake in this combat. We have the power to win it."

Countries that have not yet indicated they would sign the agreement Friday include some of the world's largest oil producers, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Nigeria and Kazakhstan, the World Resources Institute said.

The Paris Agreement, the world's response to hotter temperatures, rising seas and other impacts of climate change, was reached in December as a major breakthrough in U.N. climate negotiations, which for years were slowed by disputes between rich and poor countries over who should do what.

Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must update them every five years.

Already, states face pressure to do more. Scientific analyses show the initial set of targets that countries pledged before Paris don't match the agreement's long-term goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), compared with pre-industrial times. Global average temperatures have already climbed by almost 1 degree Celsius. Last year was the hottest on record.

The latest analysis by the Climate Interactive research group shows the Paris pledges put the world on track for 3.5 degrees Celsius of warming. A separate analysis by Climate Action Tracker, a European group, projected warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius.

Either way, scientists say the consequences could be catastrophic in some places, wiping out crops, flooding coastal areas and melting Arctic sea ice.

"This is not a good deal for our island nations, at least not yet," the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States, Nauru President Baron Divavesi Waqa, told the gathering. "The hardest work starts now."

As the Paris Agreement moves forward, there is some good news. Global energy emissions, the biggest source of man-made greenhouse gases, were flat last year even though the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency.

Still, fossil fuels are used much more widely than renewable sources like wind and solar power. 

*Additional reporting from AAP

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