By Megan Rowling
BARCELONA, March 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The United Nations expects the number of countries that will sign the Paris climate change agreement at an April 22 ceremony in New York to exceed the record for the number signing up to an international accord on the day it opens, a U.N. official said on Wednesday.
The largest number to date was 119 countries that signed the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea on Dec. 10, 1982, according to Selwin Hart, director of the U.N. secretary-general's climate change support team.
The number of countries inking the new global deal to tackle climate change, agreed by around 195 countries in December, is likely to exceed that record, Hart told reporters in New York.
"There is extremely strong political will to be part of this historic moment," he said. "Countries are excited and energised around participating."
Ban Ki-moon has invited world leaders, and U.N. expectations are that 120 or more nations will sign the accord there - more than the 80 to 100 mentioned earlier this month by Segolene Royal, France's environment minister who recently took over as chair of the U.N. climate talks.
Hart said "many" heads of state and government were due to attend the ceremony at U.N. headquarters, including Canada's prime minister and the French president.
The agreement can be formally signed by any representative designated by a country, and Hart said that signing the accord would enable it to be accepted at the national level.
The agreement will enter into force when at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions ratify or accede to it - which could be earlier than 2020, the date that was originally planned.
In the deal, 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.
In a message to mark World Meteorological Day on March 23, the U.N. chief warned that the window of opportunity for meeting that temperature goal "is narrow and rapidly shrinking".
"Climate change is accelerating at an alarming rate," said Ban. "The effects of a warming planet will be felt by all. Sea levels are rising, and extreme weather is becoming the new normal."
Earlier this week, the World Meteorological Organization confirmed that temperatures in 2015 were about 1 degree Celsius above the pre-industrial era for the first time on record.
The record temperatures over both land and the ocean surface in 2015 - due to an exceptionally strong El Niño weather phenomenon and global warming caused by greenhouse gases - were accompanied by many extreme weather events such as heatwaves, flooding and severe drought, the agency said.
"The world must act now to transform the global economy for low-emissions growth and to strengthen resilience to the inevitable changes to come, especially in less well-developed countries," Ban said in his statement.
(Reporting by Megan Rowling, editing by Tim Pearce. 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)