(CNSNews.com) – On Earth Day, with his two-year-old granddaughter Isabelle on his lap, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the “landmark” Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations headquarters in New York, calling it “the strongest, most ambitious climate pact ever negotiated.”
The non-binding agreement was approved by 196 nations last December at the U.N. Conference of the Parties (COP-21) in Paris.
The countries pledged to drastically reduce their carbon emissions “as soon as possible” in order to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels” and to make “finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.”
“We are in a race against time,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told heads of states and other representatives of the signatory nations during his opening remarks at the mostly symbolic signing ceremony on Friday.
The agreement does not go into effect until at least 55 nations that emit a majority of the world's man-made greenhouse gases officially ratify it. Kerry said the U.S. “looks forward to formally joining this agreement this year” through executive action by President Obama.
During a press briefing on Wednesday, a senior State Department official explained to reporters that “by signing, a country expresses its intention to become a party, to pursue the effort to become a party” to the agreement.
“It’s a sign of commitment, but it’s a signal – it’s not the reality,” the official said.
“By joining, a state actually takes on all the obligations under the agreement, and there is a process that different states have as to how they would choose to do that. But one is the intent to pursue joining. That’s what’s happening on Friday. The second is the joining itself.”
The unnamed official said that “we have a standard State Department exercise that we are currently going through for authorizing an executive agreement” to join the Paris Agreement, but acknowledged that “it’s legally possible for a country to withdraw, if a future president chooses.”
Environmentalists and their political supporters hailed the signing of the climate change agreement, which the U.N. described as a “landmark in international law.”
“Today’s signing of the Paris Agreement is truly one for the history books, marking a turning point for humanity and a permanent shift toward a 100 percent clean energy economy,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.
May Boeve, executive director of 350.org, said “the formal signing of the Paris Agreement could be the next nail in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry if governments actually follow through on their committments.”
“We’re leaving the age of Jurassic fuels behind – for good – and moving to cleaner, smarter ways to power our future,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement..
“The signing of Paris climate agreement represents historic step in curbing devastating effects of climate change,” tweeted Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV).
But the controversial international agreement has come under fire by critics who point out that it has not been ratified by the Senate as required under the U.S. Constitution.
“Obama wants an agreement that, like a real climate change treaty, controls domestic policy for decades to come, regardless of domestic politics and the policy preferences of future U.S. leaders. Yet he also wants an agreement that is somehow not a treaty, so he can adopt it unilaterally, with the stroke of a pen, without engaging the Senate, where the agreement would be dead on arrival.”
Other critics say the agreement will cripple the U.S. economy while having little or no effect on global temperatures.
The Cato Institute’s Patrick Michaels pointed out in December that China and India have not made any concrete commitments to reduce their CO2 emissions.”So the world’s largest emitter (China) and the third-largest one (India) aren’t doing anything, but we are, and it’s going to cost,” Michaels wrote.
Cato has calculated that "completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree."
An economic analysis published April 13 by the Heritage Foundation found that the U.S. would have 206,104 fewer jobs in manufacturing if it follows through on Obama’s pledge to reduce the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28 percent over the next decade.
“These climate change policies will cost American families over $20,000 of lost income by 2035 – with little, if any, environmental benefit in return,” the Heritage report stated.
“This economic sacrifice is not worth making: These policies and efforts of the industrialized world will result in a negligible impact on global temperatures.”
H. Sterling Burnett, research fellow for environment and energy policy at the Heartland Institute, pointed out that the Paris Agreement will have adverse effects on poor, developing nations that need ready access to cheap, abundant fossil fuels.
“If you love people and Earth, then you should hate the Paris climate agreement. It will do nothing to help the planet, and it will condemn millions to continued poverty,” he said.