Today is the International Mother Earth Day, also fondly referred to as Earth Day. This special day is meant to raise awareness about the challenges to the well-being of the planet and the life it supports.
By celebrating this day, we give cognisance to the undeniable fact that human beings and other life forms have an interdependent relationship with planet earth.
The planet in its various ways nurtures and sustains life; in return there are certain things that we are required to do in order to sustain the planet and ensure that it is able to continue to sustain us and other life forms.
Planting trees is one of the things that we are required to do which in fact benefits us and the planet. As the 50th anniversary of International Earth Day draws near, the theme for this year sets the goal of planting 7.8 billion trees over the next five years.
Since time immemorial, governments, international and national development agencies and NGOs have been advocating for planting of more trees for the purpose of protecting the environment.
With the importance of trees in helping to combat climate change through absorbing excess and harmful carbon dioxide and pollutant gases from our atmosphere, helping communities achieve long-term economic and environmental sustainability, providing food, energy and income, it is no wonder that there are still calls to plant more trees.
As the world population increases and countries become more industrialized, climate change has become a threat to sustenance of life on earth; culminating in droughts, floods, heat waves and sea level rises that are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible.
Planting trees is one of the most practical ways we can save the earth and sustain life on earth.
Nevertheless, today a subject greater than tree planting is dominating the Mother Earth day celebrations worldwide: the Paris agreement. Earth day this year has coincided with what can only be considered - in modern day politics - as the world’s greatest diplomatic success.
Following a very frustrating and tense process, the signing ceremony for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will finally take place at UN Headquarters in New York today.
The Agreement was adopted by all 196 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change at COP21 in Paris on 12 December 2015, proving that perhaps when it comes to matters of the planet compromise works.
In the agreement, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Celsius, and given the grave risks, to strive for 1.5 degrees Celsius in addition to regular reviews to ensure these commitments can be increased in line with scientific advice.
The signing ceremony takes place on the first day that the Agreement will be open for signatures, marking the first step toward ensuring that the Agreement enters into legal force as quickly as possible.
Like most international agreements, there are gaps that were not fully addressed in the Paris agreement. First of all, not all of the agreement is legally binding and this is highly problematic because future governments of the signatory countries could renege on their commitments hence reversing progress on the UN deal.
Moreover, while the regular review and submission of emission reduction targets as well as the $100 billion fund from developed countries to help emerging and developing countries decarbonise their energy mix - which means moving away from burning fossil fuels to clean energy sources, such as renewables and nuclear will be binding, emission targets themselves are not binding - they will be determined by the individual countries themselves.
Lack of legally binding emissions targets is the greatest conundrum of all in the Paris agreement. It has already been observed that even if all the targets are delivered, global warming will only be curbed to 2.70C which is way above the target of 2.00C of the Paris agreement.
I believe that one of the reasons we failed to see legally binding targets is the lack of commitment by developed countries and some emerging economies as they felt it could slow down or hamper their economic growth and development.
Secondly, there are concerns from the developing countries that the funds provided are not enough to protect them from climate change effects and enable them to shift to using renewable sources of energy.
This is already causing ripples as some call to developing countries to boycott signing the agreement until a time when they can get more commitment on funds and technological support from developed countries.
All in all, the Paris agreement is definitely a step in the right direction in protecting Mother Earth and sustaining life on earth.
The writer is a social commentator based in Kigali.