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175 Nations sign Paris Agreement on climate.

NEW YORK * World leaders representing 175 countries gathered at the United Nations on Earth Day to sign the landmark Paris Agreement -what environmental activists hope can be a catalyst in reversing the effects of climate change.

"Record global temperatures. Record ice loss. Record carbon levels in the atmosphere. We are in a race against time," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Kimoon told the heads of state, ambassadors and activists who attended the April 22 ceremony at the U.N.'s General Assembly Hall.

"Today is a day to mark and to celebrate the hard work done by so many to win the battle of securing the Paris Agreement," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said of the agreement, which 196 nations in negotiations in Paris in late 2015 pledged to support. "But knowing what we know, this is also a day to recommit ourselves to actually win this war. "

Among those lauding the day's event was Ursuline Sr. Michele Morek, coordinator of UNANEVLA, a U.N.-based coalition of Catholic congregations focused on concerns of women and children. "It's a huge start. It's a big opportunity The symbolic importance is wonderful," said Morek, who was in Paris for COP21, the U.N. climate change conference that led to the Paris Agreement.

Morek, a biologist by training who also attended the signing ceremony, acknowledged that the document is not perfect. Though it sets a goal of trying to limit global temperature rise "well below" 2 degrees Celsius (while aiming to keep it below 1.5 degrees), the agreement is premised on goals and promises --not on legal mechanisms.

Yet, Morek sees hope in the number of countries that pledged to sign the agreement--175 did so at the Earth Day ceremony, a first-day record for a U.N. document--and in the increased recognition that the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty and other global challenges are now tied to efforts to fight climate change.

"They're all of a piece," Morek told GSR. "They're all intertwined."

Sr. Aine O'Connor, U.N. coordinator of Mercy Global Action, a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy and the Mercy International Association, said the Earth Day signing is best seen as an opportunity to reflect on the broader meaning of environmental action.

"We have new clarity," O'Connor said. "We're insisting on action that links climate and science." She added that a strong, urgent voice "deeply rooted injustice" has emerged.

O'Connor, who also attended COP21, is a passionate believer both in the strength of grassroots movements that are fighting for environmental action and justice, and that the global community must accept the conclusion that fossil fuels are a dead end if climate change is to be reversed.

Embracing renewable energy and rejecting "false solutions like fracking" are now important elements of needed change, O'Connor said.

"The transformation of the system is what is needed now," she said, adding that growing environmental aware ness and activism are part of what is now pressuring governments as never before to act on behalf of the planet.

While world leaders planted pen to paper in signing the Paris Agreement, others across the globe turned attention toward a simpler task: planting a tree.

The 46th Earth Day was positioned around trees, with the Earth Day Network setting a goal of planting 7.8 billion trees, or one for each person on the planet, by the 50th Earth Day in 2020.

Numerous U.S. Catholic parishes, schools and organizations joined in the tree-planting, with several assisted by the Catholic Climate Covenant's "Trees for the Earth" prayer-service guide. Paz Artaza-Regan, a Catholic Climate Covenant program manager, told NCR that the toolkit represented its first foray into Earth Day: "There's a hunger for this in the faith community"

In "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis placed planting trees among what he called "a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions."

He made a surprise appearance April 24 at an Earth Day event in Rome's Villa Borghese park, where a temporary "village" was constructed to demonstrate more ecological ways of living.

"You are transforming deserts into forests!" Francis said of their efforts to make modern cities more fit for human life.

O'Connor hailed Laudato Si' as an example of a "call of mercy" that has opened a door for honest discussion about environmental concerns.

"The door is open and we've crossed over, but we have to act now with real urgency," O'Connor said.

Writer and environmental activist Bill McKibben, O'Connor noted, said last year that continued and even expanded activism in coming years is needed "so that the Paris agreement turns into a floor and not a ceiling for action."

That is a good way to view the Paris Agreement, O'Connor said, given the sense of urgency needed to deal with climate change and environmental damage globally.

"We're in a state of world emergency," she said.

[Chris Herlinger is Global Sisters Report's international correspondent. NCR staff writer Brian Roewe contributed to this report.]
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Author:Herlinger, Chris
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 6, 2016
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