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This morning, I traveled to the United Nations Headquarters in New York, where representatives from about 170 nations are signing the Paris Agreement. Just now, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry added his signature with his two-year-old granddaughter on his knee.
What is there to say about such an event? First, there’s the prognostication—the savvy political hazarding of what comes next. One-hundred-sixty nations will be enough to grant the agreement legitimacy; next, 55 nations representing 55 percent of global emissions have to ratify it through national processes. The United States and China, who collectively represent 38 percent, will be able to do so by executive decree.
In other words, it is looking likelier and likelier that the Paris Agreement could activate by the end of 2016. As the French minister of environment and energy said Monday night at the UN, the agreement might be “signed and ratified by the time anybody is elected” president.
But in the longer term, the Paris Agreement will dictate a new global calendar—of new stocktakings and emissions-reduction goals. From a diplomatic perspective, 2015-2016 will be the year zero for the climate, the place where the world’s plan for dealing with it changed. If we’re lucky, the five-month gap between when the treaty was completed and when everyone signed it will confuse undergraduates for decades to come; if we’re enormously lucky, the scene today will be replayed in every climate-change documentary montage made in the late 2090s.