Earth day 2016 and the Signing of the Paris Agreement.

As with the 45 years preceding it, 2016’s Earth Day will be celebrated on the 22nd of April. Earth Day is global movement celebrated in more than 193 countries through events and mobilisations which support environmental protection. This year’s Earth Day is of particular significance. On Friday a number of world leaders will convene at…

As with the 45 years preceding it, 2016’s Earth Day will be celebrated on the 22nd of April. Earth Day is global movement celebrated in more than 193 countries through events and mobilisations which support environmental protection.

This year’s Earth Day is of particular significance. On Friday a number of world leaders will convene at the United Nations headquarters in New York for the first official signing ceremony of the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement has been lauded as a key, albeit imperfect, step forward in the global battle against climate change. The agreement includes a reaffirmation of the goal to keep average global temperature increases well below 2˚C, the establishments of binding commitments by all parties to make “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) and to pursue domestic measures aimed at achieving them, and extend the current goal of mobilising $100 billion a year in development finance support by 2020 through 2025, with a new, higher goal to be set for the period after 2025, among others. The Paris Agreement was adopted at the 21st Conference of The Parties in Paris in December last year.

The 22nd of April represents the beginning of the official signing period for the Paris Agreement which will run until April 22nd 2017. From then on, the agreement will enter a period where countries can join by accession. Accession refers to a process where a country becomes Party to an international agreement that other countries have already signed.

The Paris Agreement relies on at least 55 countries which represent 55% of total global greenhouse gas emissions to sign the agreement in order for it to be ratified and enter full legal force between 2020 and 2030. The list of countries is not set, and can represent any combination as long as the greenhouse gas emissions from these countries represent at least 55% of total global emissions.

Signing is not merely about putting pen to paper. Countries who wish to become party to the agreement need to “deposit their respective instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession” with the UN for the agreement to be finalised.

It is expected that 155 countries will sign the Paris Agreement in New York on Earth Day which could prove to be a landmark in international law. The previous record for for signatures for an opening day signing of an international agreement was 119, set by the Law of the Sea in Montego Bay in 1982.

Although we are yet to successfully turn the tide against climate change, a strong political will to change our trajectory is beginning to emerge. Earth Day 2016 will be more than just a collection of mobilisations and protests, it will be the day where our world’s leaders finally took the climate action that we desperately need.

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Iain Cluett

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