Historic Earth Day: 171 Countries Sign the Paris Climate Agreement

World leaders are marking Earth Day by signing the Paris Climate Agreement at a ceremony being held at the United Nations today.

This is a truly historic day.

An incredible 171 countries out of the 191 that submitted climate pledges will be signing today – including the US. The Agreement takes effect one month after at least 55 countries – including those responsible for 55% of global emissions – sign it.

Today’s signatories represent 83% of countries and 88% of world emissions, according to World Resources Institute.

Those signing today include: US, Canada, EU, Australia, China, India, Russia and Iran. Those not attending include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Qatar, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Because so many countries are signing on so quickly, the Agreement could take effect two years earlier – by 2018 instead of 2020.

400 global investors representing $24 trillion in assets issued statement of support for the Agreement, as did more than 110 companies – including IKEA, Mars Inc., PG&E, Salesforce, General Mills, Kellogg, HP, and Starbucks – sent a statement of support for the Agreement, that starts with: "We want this economy to be energy efficient and powered by low carbon energy. Failure puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right actions now will create jobs and boost competitiveness.

"We pledge to do our part, in our own operations and beyond, to realize a global economy that limits global temperature rise to well below 2C. We call on US leaders to strongly support:

1. Swift implementation of the Clean Power Plan and related policies so the US can meet or exceed our pledges and raise our future ambitions.

2. Invest in the low carbon economy at home and abroad to give financial decision-makers clarity and boost the confidence of investors worldwide.

53 major companies already use 50% renewable energy.

Read our article, Low Carbon Corporate Initiative Could Solve 65% of Climate Problem.

Climate Agreement Eiffel Tower

If this had happened 10 years ago, we’d be in a much better position, says Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The world is now at "two minutes to midnight."

The surge to sign reflects the obvious advance of climate change, much more evident than 10 years ago. Every country is experiencing life-threatening changes from extreme floods to droughts and wildfires. The Arctic, Greenland and Antarctica are melting faster than ever, with correspondingly higher predictions for sea level rise. Very warm oceans are killing off marine life and turning coral reefs into white graveyards.

The basics of the Paris Climate Agreement are:

  • keep global warming "well below" 2°C (3.6°F) and shoot for 1.5°C. Countries agree to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.
  • reach net-zero carbon by 2100, when emissions are low enoug to be absorbed by earth’s carbon sinks – forests, wetlands and oceans.
  • protect and restore ecosystems.
  • countries will submit new, more ambitious climate targets every 5 years, beginning in 2020.
  • beginning in 2018, scientists will assess the results of global climate action every five years
  • countries must report on greenhouse gas emissions using a standardized process.
  • the Green Climate Fund must be funded at $100 billion a year by 2020, to help the poorest, most vulnerable countries adapt and grow through low-carbon measures.

Republicans True to Form

Secretary of State John Kerry will sign for the US. Because the Agreement is voluntary, it doesn’t have to be ratified by our climate denying Congress, but of course, they weighed in anyway.

Republicans on the Senate Environmental committee – chaired by "climate change is a hoax" Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – released a 30-page white paper about how the Agreement is doomed to fail.

"The Paris agreement, like the Kyoto agreement, is full of empty promises that will have no meaningful impact on the climate. The problem with international climate change agreements is that they ignore basic economic and political realities and therefore are doomed to failure," says Inhofe.

Countering that, an Obama administration spokesperson says, "The swift action by so many countries – every climate, every size, every economy – is really a testament to the undeniable momentum coming out of Paris."

The good news is half the emission cuts needed can be achieved by doubling renewable energy by 2030 (36% of the global energy mix), and the other half through energy efficiency or ecosystem restoration, and we can keep temperatures below 2°C. Improving the world’s soil by just 0.4% a year, would compensate for all the emissions we send into the atmosphere.

Calls for International Carbon Tax

Heads of state from Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, Ethiopia, Chile, and the IMF and World Bank, are calling for an international carbon tax ahead of today’s signing ceremony.

12% of world emissions are currently covered by either a tax or cap-and-trade. 25% could be covered by 2020 and over 50% within a decade, they say.

"There is a growing sense of inevitability about putting a price on carbon pollution," says Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank. "Prices for producing renewable energy are falling fast, and putting a price on carbon has the potential to make them even cheaper than fuels that pollute our planet."

India is calling on rich countries to follow their lead by taxing coal production. If they adopted India’s $6 per ton charge, the $100 billion a year promised to developing countries would easily be raised, says Energy Minister Piyush Goyal, while providing incentives for a faster transition to renewable energy.

Besides reducing emissions, putting a price on carbon to accelerate renewable energy, the world’s soils and ecosystems must be protected and restored.

Read our article, $16 Trillion Could Be Deployed Because of Paris Climate Agreement.

President Obama says: "Today is Earth Day – the last one I’ll celebrate as President. Looking back over the past seven years, I’m hopeful that the work we’ve done will allow my daughters and all of our children to inherit a cleaner, healthier, and safer planet. But I know there is still work to do" …. "Last summer, I visited Alaska and stood at the foot of a disappearing glacier. I saw how the rising sea eating away at shorelines and swallowing small towns. I saw how changes in temperature mean permafrost is thawing and the tundra is burning. We’ve got to do something about it before it’s too late."

You can see which countries have signed (and how much emissions they produce) at World Resources Institute’s Paris Climate Tracker:

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