New York, 22 April 2016 - As world leaders gathered at United Nations Headquarters in New York this morning to officially sign the Paris Agreement on climate change - the landmark accord that sets outs a global action plan to put the world on track to avoid dangerous global warming - Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Member States to move quickly to join the accord at the national level so that it can enter into force as early as possible.
"Let us never forget - climate action is not a burden; indeed, it offers many benefits," the UN chief said as he opened the High Level Signature Ceremony for the Paris Agreement in the General Assembly Hall.
"It can help us eradicate poverty, create green jobs, defeat hunger, prevent instability and improve the lives of girls and women," he added.
Mr. Ban underscored that while it is good news that States are breaking records at the UN - records are also being broken outside.
"Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere. We are in a race against time," Mr. Ban stressed.
Indeed, he emphasized that the window for keeping global temperate rise well below two degrees Celsius - let alone 1.5 degrees - is "rapidly closing."
"The era of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies. And we must support developing countries in making this transition. The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create," the Secretary-General said.
In that vein, the UN chief highlighted that climate action is essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
"Today is a day that I have worked toward since day one as Secretary-General of the United Nations and declared climate change to be my top priority. Today you are signing a new covenant with the future," he said.
The covenant must amount to "more than promises," Mr. Ban stressed, and find expression in actions taken today on behalf of the current generation and all future generations.
"It must find expression in actions we take today on behalf of this generation and all future generations - actions that reduce climate risk and protect communities, and actions that place us on a safer, smarter path," the Secretary-General said.
Mr. Ban highlighted that participants would be joined at the morning's events by 197 children, representing the Parties that have adopted the Paris Agreement.
"Of course, they represent more than this. These young people are our future. Our covenant is with them," he said.
"Today is a day for our children and grandchildren and all generations to come. Together, let us turn the aspirations of Paris into action. As you show by the very act of signing today, the power to build a better world is in your hands," Mr. Ban concluded.
Today's event coincides with International Mother Earth Day, and in his message on the Day, Mr. Ban said that the Paris accord, in conjunction with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, holds the power to transform our world.
The Paris Agreement was adopted by all 196 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris on 12 December 2015. In the Agreement, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Thus far, the latest assessment indicates that at least 171 countries will sign the accord, setting a record for the most countries to sign an international agreement on one day. The previous record was set in 1982, when 119 countries signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
All of the world's largest economies, and the largest greenhouse gas emitters, have indicated that they will sign the Agreement. The signing is the first step towards ensuring that the agreement enters into force as soon as possible. After signing, countries must take the further national (or domestic) step of accepting or ratifying the agreement.
Some 13 countries, mostly small island developing States, are expected to deposit their instruments of ratification immediately after signing the agreement today.
The Paris Agreement will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 countries, accounting for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, deposit their instruments of ratification or acceptance with the Secretary-General.
The opening ceremony will be followed by a signing ceremony, which is a legal formality where only Heads of State or Government, foreign ministers, or other representatives with "formal powers" from their Governments may sign the agreement.
After signing the agreement, leaders will deliver their national statements, having been asked by the Secretary-General to, among other things, provide an update on how their Governments will implement their national climate plans and integrate them into their overall sustainable development plans; and indicate their Governments' timetable for ratifying the Agreement.
In the afternoon, there will be a High-Level Event on Implementation, which will focus on highlighting how all actors of society and economy can accelerate action, learn from one another, and replicate and scale successful initiatives and activities that will deliver the implementation of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The session will be moderated by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, and French Environment Minister and COP 21 President Ségolène Royal. The session will feature a link-up with the Solar Impulse aircraft that is attempting to be the first airplane to circumnavigate the world using only renewable energy.