UN Headquarters – World leaders gathered at the United Nations on Friday to sign the Paris Agreement, a deal to help slow climate change. Although the deal is expected to take place in 2020, it seems it will be enforced faster than anticipated. China and the United States, the world’s top producers of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as France and Canada, pledged to confirm the deal by the end of the year.

The Paris Agreement was signed by a total of 175 countries, being the largest number of nations ever to sign an international document in one day, according to the United Nations. Nonetheless, countries still need to ratify the agreement to make it legally binding.

The agreement will only enter into force if 55 countries have formally confirmed it. The 55 countries represent 55 percent of global man-made greenhouse gas emissions. So far, 15 nations have notified the United Nations that they have had ratified the deal.

Ban Ki-moon (right) addresses the public at United Nations Headquarters on Friday, alongside French President François Hollande (left). Credit: Photo UN/Eskinder Debebe
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon (right) addresses the public at United Nations Headquarters on Friday, alongside French President François Hollande (left). Credit: Photo UN/Eskinder Debebe

The deal proposes to set in motion a process to curb the impact of global warming. Since the planet is heating up to record levels, sea levels rising and glaciers melting, and also having the first three months of 2016 to break temperature records, the necessity to have the Paris Agreement enter into force is greater, as well as to have every country to ratify it. Also, 2015 was the planet’s warmest year since records began in the 19th century.

“The era of consumption without consequences is over,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Friday. “We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies. And we must support developing countries in making this transition.”

The agreement is supposed to make countries to commit to restraining the global rise in temperatures to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. Nevertheless, greenhouse gas cannot be cut enough to limit warming to an agreed maximum, the United Nations says.

China’s Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli said at the United Nation signing ceremony that China end domestic legal procedures before the G20 Hangzhou summit in September this year. John Kerry, the United States Secretary of State, signed the deal, with his 2-year-old granddaughter sitting on his lap, and said the United States is looking forward to ratify the agreement, and it will, through executive authority.

A historical day for climate change

It’s worth mentioning that China and the United States together account for 38 percent of global emissions. The signing of the agreement was an historical event, according to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He added, “We are breaking records in this chamber and this is good news,” adding the world was “in a race against time.”

The United States Secretary of State said that the Paris Agreement is an opportunity to create a message and sent it.“None of what we have to achieve is beyond our technical capability. The only question is, is it beyond our collective resolve?” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said that developed countries, such as his and the U.S. and the European Union, should help undeveloped ones that are suffering from the impact of climate change. He acknowledged that developing nations had contributed more to the emissions threatening the climate.

Before the Paris Agreement, the United Nation had another climate deal called the Kyoto Protocol, which entered into force in 2005, even though it was made in 1997. Kyoto was dedicated exclusively to developed nations, saying that these countries were the ones that needed to do something about the climate change, cutting greenhouse gas emission, unlike the Paris Agreement which involves both rich and poor.