Why Today Could Be the Most Important Earth Day Ever
Since it was first established in 1970, Earth Day has been a day of action on environmental issues, sustainability, and climate change. Today, appropriately enough, leaders and representatives from nearly 170 nations will gather at the United Nations in New York to formally sign the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Climate change is arguably the most truly global crisis we’ve ever faced, and never before has the response been so far-reaching. Today’s ceremony will set a new record for the opening-day signing of an international agreement. It shows that the world has truly banded together in their commitment to a low-carbon future, and that the momentum that led to the success of the negotiations is still going strong.
Support for the agreement has been widespread and vocal – earlier this week, 250 faith leaders from around the world released an interfaith statement calling on heads of state to rapidly sign and implement the agreement. Global investor groups made a similar plea for swift action. As Paul Simpson, CEO of CDP, said, “Those countries who are major emitters are also some of those with most to gain from prompt action to curb the threat of climate change because of the massive impacts it could have, not just on agricultural systems, transport, or energy infrastructure but on bottom lines.”
The rewards of investment could indeed be substantial – according to a new analysis by the We Mean Business coalition, implementing the Paris Agreement could create some $13.5 trillion in global economic activity.
Signing the agreement is an important demonstration of intent and solidarity by the world’s nations. The next step is joining the agreement, which requires getting the necessary domestic approvals. (The Obama Administration has said that the climate deal is an “executive agreement,” which would not need the approval of the Senate.)
The agreement will enter into force once 55 countries that represent at least 55 percent of global emissions have joined the agreement. Both the U.S. and China have announced their intention to formally join this year. Since those countries together currently produce nearly 40 percent of global emissions, and since momentum and determination to make this happen are currently so strong, UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres and other experts predict that the agreement may take effect by 2018 – two years ahead of schedule.
This is an astounding development, representing a profound change in narrative from “this is impossible” to “this is happening,” and from “addressing climate change is a burden” to “addressing climate change is a huge economic opportunity.” From smart investments in clean energy infrastructure and innovation, to avoiding health care expenses and business risks caused by climate impacts, the cost advantages of climate action are enormous – not to mention the benefits to our physical and mental health and well being.
The Paris Agreement also offers an opportunity to create a more just, equitable world. Developing nations and vulnerable populations bear the brunt of climate impacts. Lack of access to good infrastructure, transportation, and health care make it harder for these people to prepare for and respond to extreme weather, extreme temperatures, droughts, floods, and other climate-related threats.
The climate agreement recognizes the legal obligation of the world’s nations to respect human rights – specifically the rights of women, indigenous people, and other vulnerable groups. Fulfilling the agreement will help reduce climate impacts while offering both developing and developed nations new avenues for economic growth. To help developing nations reach their climate goals more quickly, the World Bank has pledged to dedicate 28 percent of new investments to projects that help fight climate change.
Since the desire to protect the vulnerable and provide a better world for future generations was a prime motivator behind the Paris Agreement, it’s both gratifying and inspiring to see such progress towards climate justice. On this very significant Earth Day, we have much to celebrate.