Climate deal comes one step closer to effect at United Nations

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An agreement to fight global warming came one step closer to taking effect on Wednesday when dozens of countries deposited their ratification of the deal at the United Nations, taking the total to 60, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon holds up a smart phone as he addresses the General Debate of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly in the Manhattan borough of New York, U.S., September 20, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar

The deal, agreed by nearly 200 countries in Paris last December, needs ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to take effect. Ban said the 60 countries represented more than 47.5 percent.

The United Nations said 14 countries, representing 12.58 percent of emissions, have committed to joining the agreement in 2016, which would allow the threshold of 55 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to be reached.

“What once seemed impossible is now inevitable. I’m confident that by the time I leave office the Paris agreement will have entered into force,” Ban, whose second five-year term ends on Dec. 31, told an event on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly.

The binding global deal would slash greenhouse gases, keeping global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius. Scientists warn that countries are likely to cross that threshold if they don’t take more drastic actions.The Paris agreement received a boost earlier this month after U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping submitted their plan to join the agreement. The world’s two biggest emitters account for around 40 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The European Union, whose members have not yet ratified the Paris Agreement, is aiming to formally join the pact by the end of the year, said EU Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Canete.

This will require approval from each of the 29 member states, which collectively rank behind China and the United States as the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter.

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“Yes, it will be complex. But yes we will get it done,” the commissioner said.

Each country will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions according to their own national strategies.Paula Caballero, global director of the climate program at the World Resources Institute, said the fact that the agreement would likely enter into force this year “took everyone by surprise.”

“This rapid pace reflects a spirit of cooperation rarely seen on a global scale,” Caballero said in a statement.

With ratification on the horizon, the representative for small island states that face the most direct threat from climate change, said he would redouble efforts to bring the number over the line.

“This is a very encouraging start, but we call on all countries to join the Paris Agreement as soon as possible. Climate change is a truly international problem and solving it requires all of us to do our part,” said Mohamed Asim, foreign minister of the Maldives on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Valerie Volcovici; editing by Grant McCool