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At UN headquarters in New York, Ban Ki-moon
Image: Irene Hell

165 states sign UN climate deal

Irene Hell in New York
April 21, 2016

Countries are lining up to sign the Paris Climate Agreement at a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York on April 22. The treaty marks a turning point on paper, but still needs huge efforts to be implemented.


April 22nd, Earth Day, is a big day for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. For decades the majority of politicians and business leaders ignored, blocked or even sabotaged a global climate deal. Now heads of states or their representatives have each been allocated just 40 seconds to sign the landmark agreement.

In an unparalleled speed-signing ceremony, representatives of some 160 states will be putting their signature under one of the most important documents of the 21st century: the UN Paris Climate Agreement - a legal framework to reduce global warming to 2 degrees or lower.

Everybody who's anybody

Not only heads of states led by the French President François Hollande, who made history as one of the architects of the Paris agreement, but also Hollywood stars and business leaders who want to witness the historic turning point in the climate change movement are in New York for the signing.

French premier Hollande hosted the landmark COP21 in Paris, 2015.
Hollande hosted the landmark COP21 in Paris, 2015.Image: Reuters/S. Mahe

Business and industry have a key role to play in bringing the agreement to life. "Carry a clear message that how we do business today will determine if we do business in the future," US Secretary of State John Karry urged business leaders during a Caring for Climate (C4C) event in Paris.

A price on carbon

Initiated by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and organized by the UN Global Compact, the largest corporate social responsibility initiative in the world, the C4C is helping to bring a turnaround: "For the first time, the private sector has argued in favor of pricing externalities. This is a breakthrough, because usually business blocks climate action on a national level. Investors are actually making the case for putting a significant price on carbon. Polluters are making the case to be charged. That has never happened before,” UN Global Compact founder Georg Kell told DW.

Thousands of companies as well as investment powerhouses such as BlackRock and BT Pension and the Rockefeller and Rothschild funds, who represent trillions of dollars, are now pushing for a global carbon deal.

UN headquarters in New York is hosting the ceremony.
UN headquarters in New York is hosting the ceremony.Image: Irene Hell

New conspiracy - to save the planet?

According to old conspiracy theories, money dynasties such as the Rockefeller- and the Rothschild-Clan rule the world behind the scenes.

If there is some truth in it, we could now be facing a new conspiracy: a conspiracy to save the world's climate.

“We are hoping to help to finish the oil age. It is time to move away from fossil fuels, and to move as quickly as possible to clean, renewable energy in order to save the planet. The oil age is now coming to its own end,” Stephen Heintz, President of the Rockefeller Brother Fund, told DW.

Wealthy individuals and corporations are pulling massive amounts of money out of the fossil fuel business and investing in green energy. The Rockefeller Family Fund is just about to make big waves by selling its shares in Exxon. Standard Oil made John D. Rockefeller the richest man of his time. Now some of his great-great-grandchildren are viciously fighting Exxon, the follow up company of Standard. They accuse ExxonMobil of being "morally reprehensible".

In November, the New York attorney generalbegan an investigation of Exxon Mobil. Exxon is accused of decade-long climate change cover-ups and of lying to the public about the risks of climate change.

Fossil Free Berlin Demonstration
The grassroots-driven divest movement is helping implementationImage: Tine Langkamp

Still a long way to go

The signing of the Paris Climate Agreement by almost all states is a milestone in the history of mankind.

“But it's only the beginning. We must urgently accelerate our efforts to tackle climate change,” Ban Ki-moon urged the global community.

Only five countries — Barbados, Belize, Tuvalu, Maldives and Samoa — small island states which are most threatened by global warming, are also delivering ratification of the agreement.

It will be a long and hard road until the treaty is ratified in the national parliaments of major emitters of greenhouse gases such as China, the United States, Japan, India, Brazil, Australia and many European Union countries.

By 2020 the UN wants to raise 100 billion dollars to finance climate protection for poorer nations. But this is just a drop in the ocean.

Ban Ki-moon has given top priority to saving the climate. His biggest hope is probably the divestment movement. The total volume of assets of investors who are willing to pull assets out of fossil fuels and to invest green rose from 50 billion dollars to more than 3.4 trillion dollars in the last two years.

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