170 countries sign historic Paris Climate Deal on Earth Day

paris climate agreement
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressing global leaders at the Paris Climate Agreement signing ceremony

The Paris Agreement seems to be on track to be implemented when almost 170 countries inked their agreement Friday in a global win-win deal on climate change that once seemed unlikely.

Leaders from more than 170 countries gathered in New York City on Friday which coincides with Earth Day, to sign the climate deal struck in December 2015, at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21). The event proved to be a landmark one setting a record of sorts for the number of countries signing an agreement on a single day.

Global leaders participated in a signature ceremony hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. In his message on the Day, Mr. Ban said the Paris accord, in conjunction with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, holds the power to transform our world.

“It will also be a landmark in a series of steps taken to transform the international pact into an actual tool to combat rising temperatures and seas, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other impacts of global climate change and to boost the use of cleaner energy,” he said.

“The momentum achieved by so many signatures on one day sends a clear signal of solidarity and resolve. Now we must unleash the full force of human ingenuity and ensure low-emission growth and improved climate resilience,” the UN chief noted in his Earth Day message.

“Leadership from the top is crucial. But each of us has a role to play. We can make energy-efficient choices, stop wasting food, reduce our carbon footprints and increase our sustainable investments,” said the Secretary-General, stressing that small actions, multiplied by billions, will bring about dramatic change, bolstering the Paris Agreement ‘and setting us on a trajectory to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The opening ceremony included music and a short video, followed by a formal signature ceremony, where only Heads of State or Government, foreign ministers, or other representatives from their Governments signed the agreement.

After signing the agreement, leaders also delivered national statements and provided updates on how their Governments will implement their national climate plans and integrate them into their overall sustainable development plans.

The U.S. and China, which together account for nearly 40 percent of global emissions, also signed the pact. Countries from every region of the world, including emerging powerhouses such as Brazil, China and India, will also signed the climate agreement because they recognize the urgency and relevance of climate change to their people.

The deadline for the Paris Agreement was 2020 but it seems that it could become effective much before that though countries will need to acquire formal approvals from their governments. However, it will be none too soon as recently there have been a spate of troubling reports on the latest effects of global warming.

U.S. and Japanese meteorological data have shown that global temperatures in March have been the highest in the last 100 years for monthly global averages, and that there have been warmer-than-usual temperatures in the previous 10 months. This is probably due to a powerful El Nino weather event but scientists say much of the recent heat is due to the rise in heat-trapping emissions. Irreversible ice melts in the Arctic sea ice, in turn, caused it to shrank to its lowest extent on record in March.

The agreement will be deposited at the UN in New York after formal signature ceremony. Those who did not sign on Friday, will have one year to do it.

The historic agreement, to beat the dangerous effects of climate change, was finally hammered out in December 2015 outside Paris after many years of wrangling between developed and under developed countries as to who should take on the onus of battling climate change.

The mood was so pessimistic after a failed 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, that U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres said she thought a global deal wouldn’t happen in her lifetime. Now she expects the Paris Agreement to take effect by as early as 2018.

Under the agreement, countries set their own targets for reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The targets are not legally binding, but countries must update them every five years.

The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction today urged signing countries to go beyond their existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if the world is to avoid catastrophic future weather events.

Robert Glasser, the UN Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction warned, “Most people who looked at the global situation say that if we don’t succeed in maintaining the world under a 2 degrees Celsius rise, then it’s going to be incredibly difficult to realize the Sustainable Development Goals.” He added, “And so implementing the Paris agreement is important for promoting prosperity, improving people’s well being, and protecting the environment.”

As the Paris Agreement moves forward, there is some good news. Global energy emissions, the biggest source of man-made greenhouse gases, were flat last year even though the global economy grew, according to the International Energy Agency.

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