By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Around 170 countries are set to sign the Paris agreement on climate change in New York on Friday, signaling their commitment to put the landmark deal to curb global temperature rise into practice.
Environment and development groups praised the political will demonstrated by the high-level event, which they said was an important step toward implementation of the agreement.
But they warned that governments must now act urgently to follow through on their promises, deliver meaningful action to curb climate change and protect poor people from its impacts.
In the deal reached in December, governments agreed to limit global temperature rise to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times and pursue efforts to keep it to 1.5 degrees.
It will enter into force when at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions ratify or formally join it - which could be earlier than 2020, the date originally planned.
If the deal takes effect sooner, climate change experts hope it could provide impetus for countries to raise their targets for reducing planet-warming emissions, and boost support to help vulnerable countries defend themselves against worsening extreme weather and rising seas.
Here is a selection of views on the signing ceremony at U.N. headquarters:
Achim Steiner, executive director, UN Environment Programme
"Signing the Paris Agreement is but a step on a long journey to make our world a better place. A large step, yes, but many more remain to be taken in our efforts to address the risks of climate change, reduce pollution and increase access to clean energy. By continuing to cooperate, as the world did in Paris, we can achieve our goals sooner than we expect."
Felipe Calderón, former president of Mexico and chair of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate
"The Paris Agreement was a triumph of diplomacy. Today's signing shows that it wasn't all talk, and that countries are ready to put in the leg work. This is an important step along the road to a better climate for all.
Now we need to move from rhetoric to reality. Financing the low-carbon transition is our next challenge. We know the capital exists, we just need to unlock it. We're already seeing positive steps, especially in the developing world. Last year, developing countries invested more in renewables than developed countries for the first time."
Thoriq Ibrahim, minister of energy and environment for the Maldives and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)
"It is no accident that islands were the first countries to ratify the Paris Agreement. As some of the countries most vulnerable to climate change impacts, we are acutely aware of the need to move urgently to implement its objectives and that starts by bringing the agreement into force. But even as we celebrate this historic occasion, we must work in earnest to accelerate the deployment of climate solutions in every corner of the world and help vulnerable countries prepare for the impacts that can no longer be avoided. Our mantra moving forward must be: more, faster, better."
Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute
"The signing could not come soon enough. Each month since the Paris Agreement was reached has brought fresh evidence that Mother Nature has a fever and all life on Earth is suffering the consequences. The climate focus now pivots from diplomacy to implementation. The challenge is to find ways to work together to accelerate the work already begun by national governments, mayors, CEOs, civil society groups and citizens around the world."
Krishneil Narayan, coordinator, Pacific Islands Climate Action Network
"After the signing of the agreement, governments around the world have to roll up their sleeves and get to work aligning national climate and development policies with the 1.5 degree Celsius warming threshold - which requires a swift and just transition from fossil fuels to 100 percent renewable energy as well as concerted efforts to bolster the global climate agreement itself."
Jennifer Morgan, executive director, Greenpeace International
"For so many countries to sign at the first opportunity is a real indication of the overwhelming support to turn the Paris Agreement into accelerated climate action. Paris created momentum for change; governments must now follow through with specific accelerated actions to cut greenhouse gas emissions, save our forests and protect our oceans."
Mohamed Adow, senior climate advisor, Christian Aid
"The signing of this agreement reminds us just how far we've come. Just a few years ago the world was divided on how to respond to climate change and progress was slow. But this agreement shows the world is now united in tackling its biggest threat and the path towards a low carbon world is set. It is vital that countries ratify the Paris Agreement as soon as possible so that we can turn it into reality. The sooner it comes into force the stronger the signal is to investors and the faster the global transition will be, as money shifts to clean technologies."
Winnie Byanyima, executive director, Oxfam International
"The signing of the Paris agreement today marks a critical step forward towards building a more resilient, low-carbon future. But there is still much unfinished business left from Paris on adapting to the dangerous impacts of climate change.
If all of today's public climate adaptation finance were to be divided among the world's 1.5 billion smallholder farmers in developing countries, they would get around $3 each a year to cope with climate change."
Sven Harmeling, climate change advocacy coordinator, CARE International
"Although we have seen a great amount of global commitment to tackle climate change, current national action plans are not ambitious enough to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. This is a question of survival for many poor and climate vulnerable communities and nations that need much more support to withstand increasing climate shocks. There's no room for delay, now is the time to turn the Paris Agreement into meaningful action."
Harjeet Singh, climate policy manager, ActionAid
"The Paris Agreement was a significant political achievement, but the jury is out on whether it will have meaningful results for the planet. World leaders confirming their commitment to the Paris deal is welcome, but it won’t be worth the paper it's written on unless the countries that cause climate change take far more action. They need to commit to far greater emissions cuts, while increasing funds for renewable energy and to help poor people adapt to the impacts of climate change."
Karen Orenstein, senior international policy analyst, Friends of the Earth U.S.
"The pitiful outcome on climate finance must not be lost amidst the euphoria surrounding the signing of the Paris Agreement. Developed countries fell painfully short of their moral and legal obligation to provide money for developing countries to take climate action, in line with what science and justice demand. With the Paris Agreement, the world's poorest and most vulnerable got the short end of the stick, which is no cause for celebration."
Bjorn Lomborg, president, Copenhagen Consensus Centre
"To say that Paris will get us to 'well below 2°C' is cynical posturing at best. It relies on wishful thinking. It's like going on a diet to slim down, but declaring victory after the first salad.
This treaty will be extraordinarily costly: Using the best individual and collectively peer-reviewed energy-economic models, the total cost – through slower GDP growth from higher energy costs – will reach $1-2 trillion every year from 2030. We owe the world much more – both in terms of tackling climate change better, and in spending resources smarter.
A greater focus on green innovation is the only way we can start tackling the 99 percent of the climate problem not addressed by this treaty. Funding in the region of $100 billion annually is what is needed."
(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)