The global deal reached at the Paris climate conference of December 2015 could come into force two years ahead of schedule, according to comments Monday by Christiana Figueres, the United Nations' climate chief.
The agreement was originally intended to swing into action in 2020, but this requires only that it be signed and ratified by 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world's total emissions. That target appears likely to be reached well in advance of the original deadline.
A huge step in that direction is to take place on April 22, when at least 130 countries are expected to come together in New York and sign the agreement, shattering the current record held by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, signed Dec. 10, 1982 by 119 countries.
But signing and ratifying the paperwork is just the first step, albeit a vital one, and it is what comes next, the actions taken to implement the agreement’s targets, that will hold the power to catalyze substantial change.
"We are two minutes to midnight on climate change. If you ask me, the Paris agreement is 10 years too late," said Ms. Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The deal reached in Paris set a target of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, and in order to achieve that, said Figueres, the global community is going to have to make a gargantuan effort to switch to clean energy and low-carbon infrastructure.
Figueres likened the effort required to achieve this, according to Reuters, to the mammoth undertaking of reconstruction following the devastation of World War II.
Considering the drive to convert to clean energy, there were glimmers of light amid the gloom, as Figueres noted the substantial reduction in the costs associated with solar and wind energy, which have dropped 80 percent and 40 percent respectively since 2008.
"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."
The aim is to reach a status of "net zero emissions," whereby no more greenhouse gases are produced than can be absorbed by trees and other systems – and if this target remains unmet, it will be the poor who pay the price, said Figueres.
"It's a simple relation: more carbon equals more poverty," she said. "Net zero emissions is the only way to make poverty eradication possible."
Material from Reuters was used in this report.