In honor of Earth Day, a record number of world leaders from around 170 countries will meet at UN headquarters in New York City to officially sign the COP21 Paris climate agreement. According to the UN, the large turnout signals support for concerted efforts to combat climate change. It is possible that the agreement could go into effect as early as this year.
After today’s signing, each country will take the agreement home and formally ratify it in processes dependent on their governments. In some, like the United States, it’s as simple as a leader declaring support. In others, such as Japan and India, the agreement will have to go through parliamentary houses. Some countries may even have to implement new laws.
Fiji, Switzerland, Palau, and the Marshall Islands have already gone through the process of ratification in their countries. The climate agreement won’t go into effect until 55 countries, emitting at least 55 percent of worldwide emissions, ratify the treaty in their countries and formally join.
Many hope that will happen sooner rather than later. In particular, the BBC reports that President Obama hopes the agreement will go into effect before the November elections; at that point, his successor would have to wait four years to change its status in America and may be voted out of office before then.
Today marks a day of celebration; Leonardo DiCaprio and other celebrities will be present for the signing, which is expected to involve a great deal of pomp and circumstance. But we haven’t solved climate change yet. Some environmentalists worry the agreement isn’t strong enough. Chatham House senior research fellow Shane Tomlinson told the BBC, “For the Paris agreement to have any credibility we can’t afford to wait ten years in order to increase ambition.”