The Paris Agreement officially entered into force on Friday, marking an unprecedented step in the international fight against climate change. For the first time in history, governments who have signed the Agreement are legally required to work to limit global warming by two degrees Celsius. It is a landmark achievement in collective political action and a much-needed step as temperatures continue to rise faster than scientists initially predicted.
“This is a truly historic moment for people everywhere,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “The speed at which countries have made the Paris’s Agreement’s entry into force possible is…a powerful confirmation of the importance nations attach to combating climate change.”
In a joint statement with Salaheddine Mezouar, foreign minister of Morocco, Espinosa called the Agreement a “turning point,” writing that “Humanity will look back on 4 November 2016 as the day that countries of the world shut the door on inevitable climate disaster and set off with determination towards a sustainable future”
First adopted at the UN climate conference in Paris, France last year, the Agreement surpassed a critical hurdle on October 5th, meeting the requirement that at least 55 Parties accounting for at least 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions would ratify it. The Agreement enters into force 30 days later.
According to the UNFCCC, 97 countries—including top emitters China, India, the United States, and the European Union—have now ratified the Agreement. Together, these nations account for more than two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The entry into force means the Agreement’s governing body, known as the CMA, will officially be launched at upcoming Conference of Parties (COP22) starting next week in Marrakech, Morocco. It also means negotiations over the accompanying rule book on implementation will be completed.
In addition, participating governments are now required to develop increasingly ambitious national climate action plans. However, because countries are not legally obligated to meet individual emissions reduction targets—only the global ones— transparency and public pressure will be key for the Agreement’s success.
In New York, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with civil society organizations, calling the Agreement an “emotional moment” and praised the groups’ contributions to the climate milestone.
“You have shown that citizens’ groups are essential partners for progress,” Ban said, recalling marching with activists during the September 2014 Climate Summit. “Your vision, courage, persistence and leadership made this day happen.”
These groups as well as a number of high profile individuals, including the Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio, have brought increased attention to impact of climate change. DiCaprio, who is a UN messenger of peace, recently screened his new documentary Before the Flood at UN Headquarters. The film is a grim portrayal of Earth as a once verdant Eden now on the brink of destruction due to the effects of manmade climate change. DiCaprio’s message is simple: Action must be taken immediately, before it’s too late.
The Secretary-General echoed this urgency on Friday. “We need to transition to a low-emissions and climate-resilient future,” he said. “We are still in a race against time.”