World leaders gather to sign new climate pact

It’s the largest number of signatories ever garnered for any UN agreement’s opening day.

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Among them are China and the United States, the world’s top emitters – accounting together for 38 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

The President of the UN General Assembly, Mogens Lykketoft, says historic agreements on sustainable development and climate change need to be implemented with urgency to help overcome global environmental crises.

Mr Lykketoft made the comments at the opening of a high level debate on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs.

“The Paris, New York, Addis and Sendai agreements, together provide us with a solid framework to address the root causes of all these crises, but this will only happen if they are implemented with urgency, if we build on the foundations laid by the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) and if we manage the opportunities before us to the benefit of all.”

Environment Minister Greg Hunt travelled to New York to sign for Australia, but the Greens say the major parties’ efforts aren’t good enough to achieve the Paris obligations.

Last year the government tried to slash the Renewable Energy Target – it was 41,000 gigawatt hours by 2020, and they sought to cut it to 27,000 but finally compromised with Labor and settled for 33,000 by 2020.

The Climate Institute believes Australia urgently needs a plan to build an economy shifting towards net zero emissions.

Christiana Figueres is the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

She told a recent TED talk that despite political differences within individual countries on climate change policy, the Framework Convention is a major reason for optimism.

“On December 12, 2015, in Paris, under the United Nations, governments got together and unanimously – if you’ve worked with governments, you know how difficult that is – unanimously decided to intentionally change the course of the global economy in order to protect the most vulnerable and improve the life of all of us. Now, that is a remarkable achievement.”

Australia was one of 195 parties to agree at the United Nations conference in Paris last year to commit to limiting global warming by at least two degrees and increase efforts to slash carbon pollution over time.

Signing is only one step in the process for the deal to enter into force.

Santiago Villalpando, of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs, has explained the steps needed for the agreement to move forward.

“The Paris agreement in order to enter into force required two threshold. The first one is that 55 states accept the agreement. So we need 55 ratifications, acceptances, or approvals for the agreement to enter into force. But this is not all, those 55 raifications need to come from those states that represent 55 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. So we need this double threshold to be attained, 55 states that represent at least 55 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.”

Once the Paris accord enters into force, a little-noted Article 28 says any nation wanting to withdraw will first have to wait four years.

Many nations want to avoid a repeat of the UN’s previous climate deal, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which only entered into force in 2005 after years of disputes between Washington and its main allies.