22 Apr 2016

Climate Change Agreement rooted in historic signing on Earth Day

Today's Earth Day theme is symbolic for an historic signing, crucial for our future. Photo: Chris Connelly, flickr.com
By Shaun Hurrell

Think of trees and you may think of fresh air to breathe. You may think of trapping carbon and combating climate change, or of food, a livelihood, or of forest habitat for the wildlife you love. You may think of the inspiration you found whilst climbing in nature as a child, or you might think of a robust trunk and long-lived roots that extend beyond our own lives. However you think of trees, they are a great symbol for Earth Day this year, which marks a special ceremony.

Trees are as vital for the health of our planet as the signing of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

Today, on International Mother Earth Day (to name it in full), the UN Headquarters in New York hosts the largest signing ceremony of its kind in the history of the UN, showing the political momentum behind the global plan to combat climate change.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting this high-level signing ceremony, where countries will sign the Paris Climate Change Agreement – so crucial to the future of our planet – that was adopted back in December.

“Signing the Paris Climate Change Agreement today is a powerful demonstration of leadership and intent,” said Edward Perry, Global Climate Change Coordinator for BirdLife International. “It is encouraging to see that over 150 countries are registered to sign.”

Signing means committing to implementing measures to address climate change. The ‘Trees for Earth’ theme of this year’s Earth Day is symbolic for the day of signing, because only through considering trees will we be able to achieve the Paris Agreement.

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“Protecting and restoring natural forests and other ecosystems will be fundamental to holding temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius,” says Perry. “It will also help protect vulnerable communities and infrastructure from the impacts of climate change, whilst giving nature a fighting chance.”

BirdLife urges governments to recognise that nature-based solutions are key to successful implementation of the Agreement. BirdLife Partners around the world are finding ecosystem-based adaptations to climate change that are truly working for nature and people.

Like the lifetime of the tallest tree, the impact of decisions made in the coming months will extend beyond our own generation.

No time to lose

Today governments from all over the world are taking their first collective step to tackle the climate change crisis. The next step will be to then take action nationally so that the agreement becomes officially valid and there are expectations that this will happen earlier than planned.

French President François Hollande and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will give speeches explaining when the Agreement will get national legal status, how they will raise the ambition of national climate plans, and who they will work with to deliver urgent climate action over the next 4 years.

After the signing, countries will need to take national action to ratify, approve or accept the Paris Agreement. This will come into force thirty days after at least 55 countries covering 55% of global emissions have done this.

“Interestingly, while the Paris Agreement was designed for post-2020, there is written that prevents it from coming into force earlier,” says Perry, “And there is a distinct possibility that this could happen.”


“It is ultimately action - not words on paper - that will address the climate crisis. The Paris Agreement was a critical and historic breakthrough in multilateralism. Now it is time for action.”

It’s time to look up into the canopy for inspiration, and seed action on the ground.

How can I help?

This year, Earth Day Network is calling on you to help achieve a very ambitious goal: planting 7.8 billion trees. For more information, visit the Earth Day website.