U.N. climate chief predicts Paris deal will take effect early

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new global pact to tackle climate change, agreed in Paris in December, could come into force two years earlier than the planned date of 2020, the U.N. climate chief has said.

“I think we will have a Paris agreement in effect in 2018,” predicted Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, at a lecture in London on Monday evening.

The agreement, originally slated to take effect in 2020, will come into force once 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s total emissions have both signed and ratified it.

On April 22, at least 130 countries are expected to ink the agreement in New York, on the first day it opens for signature - more than the 119 who signed the Law of the Sea, which holds the current record, Figueres said.

Getting the deal agreed and ratified, however, is just a prelude to the far more complicated work of switching the world’s energy systems over to clean power and ramping up low-carbon infrastructure, she said.

That will take rapid and massive investment on a scale not seen since rebuilding after World War II, to make the changes needed quickly enough, Figueres said.


“We are two minutes to midnight on climate change. If you ask me, the Paris agreement is 10 years too late,” she said.

Delays in negotiating the pact - which sets a goal of keeping global average temperature rise to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius - have put “an incredible amount of pressure” on efforts to revamp the world’s systems, she added.

Global emissions of climate-changing gases now need to peak in four years and then rapidly decline, even as the world’s population and energy demand grow, she noted.

Switching to clean energy sources such as solar and wind - which have become 80 percent and 40 percent cheaper respectively since 2008 – is crucial, as is avoiding the construction of new high-carbon infrastructure, such as coal-fired power plants, she said.

“The quality of investment today equals the quality of energy tomorrow - equals the quality of life forever,” Figueres said.

“It is not correct to think we are going to deal with climate change tomorrow. We have to deal with it today.”

If the world does not move fast enough to “net zero emissions” – or producing no more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed by trees or other systems – the world’s poor will pay the highest price, as the new Sustainable Development Goals move out of reach, she said.

“It’s a simple relation: more carbon equals more poverty,” she said. “Net zero emissions is the only way to make poverty eradication possible.”

She also urged a bigger role for women in addressing climate change. “It does us no good to keep 50 percent of the skills, 50 percent of the human potential, in a closet,” she said.