175 countries sign Paris climate agreement on Earth Day

Political leaders from more than 170 countries - including the China, the US and the UK - came together at the UN headquarters in New York to officially sign the Paris Agreement on Earth Day (22 April).

On what has been hailed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as “a day for our children and grandchildren and generations to come”, national delegates from across the globe put pen to paper and officially indicated their consent to be bound by the climate targets set out in the historic Agreement that was agreed in principle at COP21 last December.

— Paris Agreement signing ceremony: As it happened —

A total of 175 countries are reported to have signed the Agreement, with 15 of those countries going a step further and actually submitting “instruments of ratification, acceptance or approval”. This breaks the record for first-day signatures held by any international treaty.

The signings mark an important first step to implementing the “ambitious and balanced” climate deal, which includes a “legally-binding” target to keep global warming “well below 2C”. Joining the Paris Agreement is a two-step process: countries must first sign the Agreement, and then indicate their consent to join and be legally bound by it. 

Ki-Moon welcomed global leaders to the New York ceremony by saying that the Agreement will “shape the future of all future generations in a most profound way”.

The UN Secretary-General said: “Records are being broken here in this room, but other records are being broken such as record ice loss, record global temperatures, and record carbon levels. We are in a race against time, and for that reason I urge all countries to join quickly so that the Paris Agreement can enter into force as soon as possible.

“The age of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify our efforts to decarbonise our economies and support developing countries to make this possible. The poor should not suffer from a problem they did not create.”

‘Significant milestone’

The ratification signatures of at least 55 countries – representing more than 55% of global carbon emissions – are required for the deal to formally apply from 2020. As it stands, the 15 countries that have officially ‘ratified’ the Agreement represent just 0.03% of global emissions.

Nonetheless, today’s developmens do still mean that we are well set to go far beyond that 55% benchmark; with the 175 countries that have signed and are now expected to ratify the Agreement representing around 93% of global emissions.

China and the US – responsible for almost 40% of global emissions – had already agreed to take “respective domestic steps” to approve the Agreement, with their respective heads of state signing as expectd today. In a surprise announcement, China took to the stage to confirm that it will go ahead and ratify the Agreement ahead of G20 in September this year. The US is also expected to ratify this year.

Meanwhile, France – which was the first country to sign today – aims to ratify the Agreement by this summer, with expectations that the European Union will follow suit by the end of the year.

UK commitment

Representing the UK today, Under Secretary of State for Energy Lord Nick Bourne stepped up to the chair for the official signing – a move that Energy Secretary Amber Rudd believes underlines the importance of remaining in the European Union, ahead of the crucial referendum in June.

Rudd said: “The UK is one of the first developed countries to deliver on a commitment to taking coal off the system, putting an end date on it as part of the action we are taking to cut emissions as cost effectively as possible.

“The global deal reached in Paris was a significant milestone in tackling climate change, helping to safeguard our long-term economic security and giving clear direction to businesses as we transition to a low carbon economy. As part of the EU, the UK played a key role in securing this deal, ensuring it was in the interest of British families and businesses by levelling the playing field between us and the rest of the world and making sure that every country makes its fair share of effort to combat climate change.

“I am clear that we are stronger, safer and better off in a reformed EU, playing a leading role in one of the world’s largest organisations from within to tackle the global challenges we face.”

Following today’s ceremony, the Paris Agreement will now remain open for additional signatures for one year, until April 21, 2017.

Luke Nicholls & George Ogleby

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