Paris Agreement officially open for signatures: 175 countries sign on the first day

UN General Assembly

As announced at the end of the COP21 last December, the Paris Agreement opened for signature today. To celebrate this occasion the United Nations have organized a day-long special event at  their New York headquarters, involving a wide number of Heads of State and Government officials that in the days before have announced their attendance. The Signing Ceremony represents the first official event to take place after the adoption of the long-awaited climate change Paris Agreement, and it is aimed at enhancing action toward its entry into force. The event takes place on the Mother Earth Day that has been set as the first of the 365 days the Agreement will remain open for signatures. To ensure such a huge event not to impact on climate change, the travel emissions from State delegations will be offset by deleting an equivalent volume of Certified Emission Reduction (CERs) credits.

However, signature represents only a first step to ensure that the Paris Agreement will enter into force and the ratification process of this kind of international treaty depends on domestic constitutional or legislative procedures.

The event started at 8.30 am (local time) with opening addresses by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, and the French President, Francois Hollande followed by statements from government representatives.

The UN Secretary General addressed the audience announcing that “this is a moment in history”. With more than 170 countries ready to sign the Paris Agreement during the day “we are breaking records in this chamber with number of signatories” he continued, “but climate impact records are also being broken”. He reminded that “We are in a race against time”  and called on UNFCCC Parties to move quickly to join the accord so that it can enter into force as early as possible. The Secretary-General also recalled the benefit that early climate action can bring to the society, including poverty eradication, green jobs, hunger defeat, and better lives of women. However, the window for keeping global temperate rise below 2° Celsius is “rapidly closing.”

“The era of consumption without consequences is over. We must intensify efforts to decarbonize our economies. And we must support developing countries in making this transition. The poor and most vulnerable must not suffer further from a problem they did not create,” the Secretary-General said. “Today you are signing a new covenant with the future” but he added it must amount to “more than promises”  and include actions taken today on behalf of the current and future generations.

French President, Francoise Holland, opened his speech by remarking the importance of the day the international community adopted the Paris Agreement and encouraged countries to work together toward its implementation. “Nobody has a responsibility to do everything, but everyone has a responsibility to do something” he said. Hope, urgency and willingness to jointly cooperate towards the reduction of carbon emissions were stressed by the government representatives that took the floor soon after. Among the others, the Chinese Vice-Prime Minister, Zhang Gaoli, the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, the US Secretary of State John Kerry, the Brazil’s Prime Minister, Dilma Rousseff, renewed their commitment to ratify the agreement and go ahead with climate action.

Around 10 am the official Signing Ceremony started, with French President Holland being the first to sign the agreement, followed by those states that today are also depositing the instruments of ratification such as Marhall Islands, Nauru, Palau, Somalia and Palestine.

In parallel to the signatures, the event went ahead among country representatives continuing to give national statements and UN Secretary  Ban Ki-moon hosting a high-level luncheon with representatives from business, civil society and UN agencies to keep momentum and remark the crucial role of stakeholders outside the negotiations context. Leonardo Di Caprio, in particular, as a “UN Messanger of Peace” stressed that fossil fuels should be left in the ground to save our planet. “An upheaval and massive change is required, now” he said, and even if we all know that it will not be easy, “the tools are in our hands – if we apply them before it is too late”.

The New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and former US vice-president Al Gore then took the floor: the former remarking the role of cities, and in particular of New York, in implementing the Paris Agreement, the latter reminding that damages caused by climate impacts will increase if we do not undertake action now.

In the afternoon a High-Level Event on Climate Implementation took place just before the closing ceremony that put an end to a very intense day with closing statements from the UN Secretary General and the Presidents of COP22, to be held at the end of this year in Marrakech, Morocco.

At the end of the day, signatures were 175 and 15 countries already ratified the Paris agreement, actually reaching a record support in the history of international treaties. The remaining 22 countries have time until to April 21, 2017 to sign the agreement.

In addition, a wide number of policy-makers, governmental delegates, activists, youth and civil society member, business representatives participated to  underline the importance of the event and declare their commitment to the world. Beyond the symbolic meaning of a collective signature, howevr, the next challenge is now to gather ratification instruments and make the Paris agreement effective as soon as possible.


(Image: UN General Assembly, New York. Credit: Patrick Gruban/Flickr)