Without a doubt, today’s Earth Day celebration will be the most globally significant in the history of the holiday. No longer is Earth Day a celebration of picking up trash in the park. Today marks entry into a new era, where climate change becomes a catalyst for action for political and business leaders alike.
Signing the Paris climate agreement
Today, Earth Day 2016, is the first day that world leaders are eligible to sign the Paris climate agreement, which was negotiated in December of last year. In order for this agreement to “enter into force” – or become binding – a minimum of 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions must sign before the one-year deadline.
The UN is hosting a signing ceremony at their New York headquarters, where 130 nations are expected to sign the agreement. The US and China, who together represent almost 40% of global emissions, have already announced their intention to sign during todays event. With majority support, the agreement could potentially meet its signature threshold by the end of the day. To have all attendees sign the agreement would be a record-breaking event for the UN, but more importantly it demonstrates overwhelming global support for climate change intervention.
The next president can’t ignore today’s outcome
If the Paris Agreement enters into force before President Obama leaves office, the next president will have to wait until 2019 to withdraw. That withdrawal would not be effective until 2020. The anticipated majority support means we are almost guaranteed to see a long-term commitment to the agreement’s sustainability goals.
Implications for businesses
Experts agree that businesses large and small will quickly feel an impact from the strengthened commitment to carbon-reduction mandates.
“The Paris Agreement represents a turning point for business. It is the beginning of the long-term framework needed for business to transform their operations and invest in low carbon products and services for the future. Now it is time to translate this framework into clear policies and actions,” says Steve Howard, Chief Sustainability Officer at Ikea.
While it may be several months or years before businesses face tighter regulations, or feel the pressure of higher industry standards, they will almost certainly see a shift in consumer behavior. To understand the growing consumer sophistication around environmental issues, simply turn on the TV. You’ll likely see a major brand touting their environmental stewardship through an inspiring commercial. The climate change call-to-action is no longer reserved for activists and politicians – the general public is hearing the message and pushing for greater transparency and accountability. Soon, consumers, investors, and regulators will not only expect businesses to embrace sustainability practices, they’ll demand to see data showing how the business has actually integrated them.