Record number of countries sign Paris Climate Agreement

Exactly 175 nation leaders gathered at the United Nations (U.N.), using Earth Day as a platform for the ceremonial signing of the agreement to slow the rise of harmful greenhouse gases around the world.

At the signing, 198 children, were present to represent the future generations who would benefit from the agreement.

“These young people are our future. Our covenant is with them,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told those gathered at the U.N. “Today is a day for our children, and grandchildren, and all generations to come.”

Last December, 196 countries came together in Paris to discuss climate change and ways to mitigate it, creating a non-binding treaty that would remain as so until 55 countries who generate more than 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gasses ratified the agreement.

The non-binding treaty set a goal to slow the rise of greenhouse gases, namely carbon dioxide, which is said to be the cause of dangerous patterns of warmth on Earth. The deal creates a target of limiting global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. In the deal, each nation is given the leeway to create its own target for minimizing its emissions, and is to give updates each year addressing their progress. Countries that chose not to sign the agreement have a year to do so if they change their minds. It is now up to the countries that have signed the agreement to take it upon themselves to ratify the treaty through their own domestic procedures.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, last year was the hottest year on record, and this year is said to be even hotter. Last winter, the Arctic Sea’s peak was at its lowest point. Scientists say the results could be catastrophic if temperatures continue to rise, potentially destroying crops, flooding coastal areas and melting ice from the Arctic Sea. The countries signing the agreement hope to mitigate these problems in order to prevent further climate change disasters from occurring.

The sudden ratification of the treaty has surprised many who originally expected the agreement to be a long, drawn out process. However, the United States and China demonstrated in their joint statement on climate change on March 31 that it is necessary to take the steps toward a more sustainable world by sustaining the momentum from December’s climate conference.

The Obama administration might have been approaching it with a different angle, however. By ratifying the treaty before the new president is inaugurated into office, it will be substantially harder for the new administration to rescind the deal. Daniel Bodansky, a scholar of international environmental law at Arizona State University, told The Washington Post that if the agreement is ratified before the Obama administration leaves office, the next president would not be able to withdraw until 2019, and furthermore would not be effective until 2020.

Of course, the fear of rescinding the deal does not pose as big as a threat if one of the Democratic candidates, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, is elected into office since both have publicly stated their support for combating climate change. On the other side of the spectrum however, presumed Republican nominee Donald Trump has not only publicly rejected the harsh realities of climate change, but also promised to cut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) condemning it as “the laughing stock of the world.”

With the agreement signed, it will make it much more difficult for a potential President Trump to back out of it, taking at least three years from the day the United States enters into the agreement, plus an additional year, for it to be able to back out. Withdrawing from the agreement would be an unwise move for the United States in terms of public relations because it could create a strong negative global reaction.  

Even without the agreement, many countries are making moves in order to cut their emissions. In April, the United States and Canada announced their decision to cut their methane emissions, and India has been working on their solar power intake, making them the world’s fourth-largest solar market.

Other countries around the world are quickly making efforts to lower their emissions as well as setting limits for the amount of dirty fossil fuels they emit. Recently, Scotland shut down its last coal-fired power plant, and in the United States, Oregon created a law that requires the state to phase out coal-fired power plants by 2030.

Investments toward renewable energy sources are also at an all-time high. According to a report by the U.N., the world invested $286 billion in green energy in 2015.

Because of these changes in the world’s perception of green energy, negotiators from the conference in Paris believe that this is what will hold the agreement together. It demonstrates that the Paris agreement is important not because of its country-binding climate plan, but because it is sending the message across that green energy is the next smart investment.

Many environmentalists praised the signing and looked to it as a sign of progress toward cleaner and smarter ways to power the future. Others were not so impressed, however, calling the signing nothing more than a symbolic ceremony.

The Paris climate agreement is more symbolic than anything else,” second-year Lena Nowak-Laird said. “The goals are not too lofty, but I don’t see them being accomplished. I think the world under capitalism will never make the necessary changes in order to counteract climate change. The pros were the emphasis on sustainable development. The cons continue to be seen in the way countries are acting, still very little regulation. India’s new forest proposal will be interesting, but I don’t see us coming out of our climate change hole.”

The agreement will in the end require a lot more than just a signature. Leaders around the world will need to commit for many years considering its reliance on political determination as well as being strong enough to survive through administration changes.


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