The White House has said countries accounting for about half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions would join the Paris climate agreement this year, bringing the agreement “within striking distance” of entering into force.
At least 34 countries representing 49% of greenhouse gas emissions formally joined the agreement, or committed to joining the agreement as early as possible this year at a high-profile signing ceremony at the United Nations last Friday.
That brought the historic agreement closer to the critical threshold for becoming operational faster than expected, officials said.
“The progress that [was] made in only hours and days after the agreement was formally opened for signing now puts us within striking distance of entering into force years earlier than anyone would have anticipated,” Brian Deese, a White House adviser, told a conference call with reporters.
The gathering at the UN made other advances towards dealing with climate change, the White House said.
The World Bank, along with countries such as Canada and Mexico, earlier this month endorsed setting a price on carbon.
>> See Guardian graph: Approval of the Paris Agreement
But economists and scientists say governments are still moving too slowly to map out a long-term future free of coal, oil, and gas – even as rising temperatures and melting polar ice unleashes havoc in real-time.
About 175 governments took a first step of signing onto the deal on Friday. The action, though entirely symbolic, had maintained important momentum since the Paris climate meeting last December, the White House said.
China, which on its own accounts for about 20% of global emissions, told the UN it would finalise domestic procedures to join the agreement before the G20 meeting in September. Other industrialised countries offered similar pledges to submit the agreement for approval to parliament.
The agreement reached in Paris seeks to avoid catastrophic climate change by limiting warming to 1.5C to 2C. Governments committed to replacing fossil fuels almost entirely by clean energy in the second half of this century.
But first the deal must become operational – a threshold required the formal approval of 55 countries accounting for 55% of global emissions.
By the UN’s count, the Paris climate deal was already very close. At least 15 countries formally joined the agreement on Friday. They included mainly small island countries at risk of drowning in rising seas, but also Palestine and Somalia.
The White House said the count was now up to 34 for countries that have formally joined the agreement, or were committed to joining this year.
Together, they represent about 49% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Deese said.
The White House has been an important cheerleader for the global agreement – despite legal challenges and opposition from Republicans in Congress and the party’s presidential candidates to its efforts to cut climate pollution from power plants – Barack Obama’s signature climate plan.