The United States and China over the weekend each submitted their plans to reduce carbon emissions to the United Nations, officially ratifying an agreement forged last year in Paris meant to curb climate change.
The ratification on by the world’s top two emitters of greenhouse gases has brought its rapid entry into force a big step closer.
Observers also say that the two nations have set a model for other countries, both developed and developing around the world to follow.
“I would like today to thank China and the United States for ratifying this landmark agreement, an agreement on which rests the opportunity for a sustainable future for every nation and every person,” said Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
“The earlier that Paris is ratified and implemented in full, the more secure that future will become,” she added.
The Paris Agreement enters into force on the 30th day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 per cent of total global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the UN Depositary, in New York.
Saturday’s announcement by President Barack Obama and President Xi Jinping, in which both countries have announced they have deposited their instruments of ratification with the UN Secretary-General, puts the balance at just over 39 per cent of the global total, based on the information from countries provided to the UN in accordance with the decision related to entry into force of the Paris Agreement.
“Bringing the Paris Agreement into force underlines that the momentum and international solidarity witnessed in 2015 continues into 2016 among big and small nations and among rich and poorer countries,” said Ms Espinosa.
“The UN Secretary General’s special event in New York on 21 September offers a further, focused opportunity for others to join this wave of ambition and optimism towards a better and sustainable world,” she added.
A source said: “There’s still more work to be done, as both countries now have to translate their nationally determined commitments in the agreement into action, including legislation and regulation. But Saturday’s announcement is a big deal – and a big step forward for the planet. With the US and China accepting the agreement, signs are that other major economies will soon begin following suit.”
China and the United States also announced on Saturday that they were working together to secure a comprehensive and ambitious amendment of a sister treaty – the Montreal Protocol – when governments meet in Kigali, Rwanda in October.
The amendment is aimed at managing down the use of chemicals called Hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) that are now being used in refrigeration systems such as air conditioners and which are potent greenhouse gases in their own right.
The two countries said they wanted to secure not only an internationally-agreed phase-down of HFCs but an early “freeze” date so that the phase-down starts sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, the United States and Chinese leaders also announced backing for action on aviation emissions under the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) at its meeting later this month.
Under ICAO, governments will decide whether to agree a market-based mechanism that can assist in encouraging aircraft operators to bring down greenhouse gases from planes.
China and the United States said today that they plan to be early participants in a voluntary pilot phase if the decision goes through at the ICAO conference.
“I would like to commend China and the US for these two additional announcements. While the Paris Agreement is the main vehicle for action on climate change, it is clear that all international agreements need to work in tandem in order to realize our shared goals and aims,” she said.
The new announcements by China and the United States come in advance of the G20 Summit and the next round of UN climate negotiations – known as COP22 – to be held in Marrakech, Morocco in November.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon invited leaders from all countries to New York to deposit their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. The event also provides an opportunity to any country to publicly commit to do so.
In his invitation, Mr Ban said: “The next step in our collective journey to a low-carbon, climate-resilient future is to ensure the rapid entry into force of the Paris Agreement.”
The objective of the Paris Agreement is to limit global warming well below 2°C and as close to 1.5°C as possible, to increase economic and social ability to adapt to extreme climate, and to direct the scale and speed of global financial flows to match the required path to very low-emission, climate-resilient development.
Along with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Paris forms part of a new and universal vision for a sustainable future around which the global community converged in 2015.
The unity of common purpose captured across these three agreements will now need to leverage an unprecedented scale and depth of national and international cooperative action involving all actors at all levels and in all regions of the world.