Alongside 174 Nations And Holding His Granddaughter, John Kerry Signs Paris Climate Accord

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds his granddaughter Isabel Dobbs-Higginson as he signs the Paris Agreement on climate change, Friday, April 22, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry holds his granddaughter Isabel Dobbs-Higginson as he signs the Paris Agreement on climate change, Friday, April 22, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK LENNIHAN

A majority of the world’s nations gathered at the United Nations on Friday to officially sign the Paris climate agreement born out of the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in December. A record 175 nations officially signed the agreement, the most to have signed a U.N. agreement on an opening day.

“More countries have come here to sign this agreement today than any other time in human history, and that is cause for hope,” Leonardo DiCaprio, U.N. Messenger of Peace, said during the opening ceremony which marked the beginning of the signing. DiCaprio also called climate change the “defining crisis of our time,” and called for fossil fuels to remain in the ground in an effort to cut carbon emissions.

Despite the fact that over a hundred countries officially signed the agreement Friday, there is still work to be done to make the treaty effective in the eyes of international law. For the treaty to officially “enter into force” — which means that key provisions would become binding — at least 55 countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions must both sign the treaty and approve it domestically. Domestic approval of the treaty means different things for different countries. In the United States, it most likely means entering as part of an executive agreement, which does not require the approval of Congress. For other countries, like Mexico, some sort of legislative approval is needed before the treaty can be ratified domestically.

Paris Agreement TrackerEdit descriptioncait.wri.orgSome countries have already taken the second step to ratify the agreement domestically, and came to Friday’s signing fully ready to join the agreement in full force. The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, which entered into the agreement in force today, said that “the people of Tuvalu are so committed to the Paris Agreement that our own parliament has already agreed to ratify.” Altogether, 15 states entered the agreement today, many of them small island developing nations.

Other large emitters — like China, the United States, Brazil, and India — have released statements pledging to domestically ratify the agreement as soon as possible.

During the opening ceremony, a handful of heads of state alluded to the significance of the Paris agreement, in which more than 190 countries unanimously agreed to keep global temperature rise to well below 2°C of global warming, compared to preindustrial levels.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry applauded the power of the agreement to “unleash the private sector” and send a signal to global markets that renewable energy and infrastructure are smart investments. He said in remarks before the official signing ceremony took place:

The power of this agreement is the opportunity that it creates. The power is the message that it sends to the marketplace. It is the unmistakable signal that innovation … is what we now know definitely is what is going to define the new energy future, a future that is already being defined but even yet to be discovered. None of what we have to achieve is beyond our capacity technologically. The only question is whether it is beyond our collective resolve.

Later, when officially signing the agreement, Kerry brought his granddaughter with him to the stage — a symbolic move perhaps meant to remind anyone watching that climate change will likely have an even greater impact on future generations.

Like Kerry, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also urged countries to unite around the issue of climate change, arguing that only with united resolve from all countries — developing and developed — could the worst of climate change be avoided.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, signs the Paris Agreement on climate change, Friday, April 22, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, signs the Paris Agreement on climate change, Friday, April 22, 2016 at U.N. headquarters. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

“Climate change will test our intelligence, our compassion, and our will, but we are all equal to that challenge,” Trudeau said. “In every possible sense we are all in this together. Together we will make ours a better world.”

Remarks were also given by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, who noted his country’s active participation in the agreement, as well as the Vice Premier of China, who promised his country would fully join the Paris agreement by September.

Throughout the signing, environmental organizations released statements generally peppered with optimism. Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club, said that it marked a “turning point for humanity and a permanent shift toward a 100 percent clean energy economy,” while May Boeve, Executive Director of 350.org, called it “the next nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry if governments actually follow through on their commitments.”

In Historic Paris Climate Deal, World Unanimously Agrees To Not Burn Most Fossil FuelsClimate CREDIT: Twitter/Pedro Sirgado In a literally world-changing deal that was almost unthinkable just a year ago…thinkprogress.orgOther environmental organizations, like Friends of the Earth, were less sunny in their assessment.

“From a scientific perspective, the numbers just don’t add up,” Jagoda Munic, chairperson of Friends of the Earth International, said in an emailed statement. “The countries historically responsible for the bulk of climate change are coming up far short of their fair share of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.”

In the United States, Republican legislators continued their opposition to the climate agreement as usual. On Thursday, Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee released a 30-page white paper arguing that the Paris agreement would lead to no more emissions reductions than the Kyoto Protocol, which is largely viewed as a failure. Earlier this week, 28 senators also sent a letter to Secretary Kerry calling U.S. contributions to the Green Climate Fund — a fund meant to help pay for developing countries to invest in green technology and infrastructure — illegal.