World leaders met at the United Nation headquarters in New York today to sign the Paris Agreement — a pledge worked out at last December’s COP21 meeting in Paris to combat climate change.

In a statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that while the signing was record breaking, records were also being broken elsewhere. “Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere,” he told the leaders from more than 170 countries. “We are in a race against time.”

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Source: Flickr)

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Source: Flickr)

While the signing of the agreement is an important step, individual countries still have to formally ratify it — a step both China and the US pledged on Friday to do by the end of the year. Commitments from China and the US are critical, since the countries are the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

The agreement will not take effect until 55 countries representing 55 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions have done that. Once that happens, it will be legally binding.

The official signing of the agreement opened today and will remain open for one year. The World Resources Institute has developed an online tool to track progress of the signing and ratification of the agreement.

During the signing event today, US Secretary of State John Kerry called the agreement the “strongest most ambitious climate pact ever negotiated.”

The Paris Agreement has set a goal of preventing global mean temperature from increasing by more than two degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. Individual countries are then responsible for setting their own targets and the agreement also requires countries to report progress toward making those targets.

While the creating of a global plan is certainly historic, as reported by the NY Times, a number of experts question whether countries will follow through on their plans, citing a lack of detailed plans and tough political environments in places like the US.

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