175 Countries Sign Paris Climate Treaty at UN Headquarters on International Mother Earth Day

Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Paris Climate Treaty on behalf of the United States along with representatives from 174 other countries at a gala, high-level ceremony at United Nations headquarters in New York City on 22nd April, a day which the UN General Assembly officially designated in 2009 as International Mother Earth Day.  It is also of course Vladimir Lenin’s birthday.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon presided over short speeches by a number of heads of state and prime ministers, including Bolivia’s Evo Morales, Brazil’s Dina Rousseff, France’s Francois Hollande, and Canada’s Justin Trudeau.  Secretary Kerry said that “Paris was a turning point in the fight against climate change,” and that “the agreement we reached in Paris is the strongest, most ambitious global climate pact ever negotiated.”

Signing the treaty by 175 countries in one day breaks the old record of 119, set in 1982 for the Law of the Sea Treaty.  The U. S. Senate, by the way, has never ratified the Law of the Sea Treaty, which everyone agrees is a treaty requiring ratification.  Whether the Senate will ever vote on the Paris Climate Treaty remains to be seen.

The treaty will go into force thirty days after it has been ratified by at least 55 countries that together comprise at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  It appears that 15 countries deposited their instruments of ratification at the same time they signed the treaty, which was negotiated in Paris in December at the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed on 31st March that, “The United States and China will sign the Paris Agreement on April 22nd and take their respective domestic steps in order to join the Agreement as early as possible this year.”  Every other country is going through its regular process for ratifying treaties. 

President Obama is treating the treaty as merely an executive agreement rather than a treaty.  It’s not clear what “respective domestic steps” the Obama administration plans to take that will signify that the U. S. has officially joined the treaty.  Perhaps a handwritten note from President Obama that says, “We’re in!”

There have been a number of commentaries this week that point out that the “respective domestic step” in the U. S. is for the President to submit the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent as required by Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.  The President maintains the pretense that it is not a treaty simply because the Senate would defeat ratification.  Here are commentaries by my CEI colleague Marlo Lewis, my CEI colleague Chris Horner, and Senator Mike Lee & Rep. Mike Kelly.