What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement is a landmark international treaty on climate change. Adopted by 196 countries in 2015, the Paris Agreement is the first agreement to place legally binding targets on all parties for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The overarching goal of the Paris Agreement is clear: to limit global temperature increase to 2 °C above pre-industrial levels, and ideally only 1.5 °C. To do so, it envisions a neutral balance of global GHG emissions by the middle of the 21st century.
Paris Agreement summary
To achieve these ambitious goals, the Paris Agreement mandates nationally determined contributions (NDCs) from all adopting countries, regardless of their stage of economic development. These are plans by individual countries to reduce their GHG emissions in accordance with the goals of the Paris Agreement. In addition to these mitigation strategies, NDCs should also include adaptation measures and initiatives to support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Additionally, the Paris Agreement establishes a framework for facilitating financial, technological, and capacity-building support from the Global North to the Global South. By 2020, the world’s richest countries committed to providing US$100 billion in climate finance to the countries most affected by climate change, and to maintaining this level until at least 2025. Greater emphasis was also placed on the issue of adaptation than had previously been seen, as this has a disproportionate impact on the lives of the most vulnerable, particularly in the Global South.
How does the Paris Agreement work?
To track progress, the Paris Agreement establishes an enhanced transparency framework (ETF), which provides for the reporting and reviewing of mitigation and adaptation measures taken, as well as support delivered or received. This information will be fed into the Global Stocktake (GST). The first GST will run from 2021 to 2023, and this process will be repeated in five-year cycles thereafter to measure collective progress towards long-term climate goals. Ideally, this will lead to reevaluation and adjustment of NDCs to achieve the highest level of ambition possible.
The Paris Agreement was the result of an extended consensus-building process, and the NDCs are determined by national governments. Thus, they are not technically legally mandated under international law, although the reporting and review processes are. Additionally, various issues, such as establishing a replacement for the existing Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and addressing the problem of losses and damages from climate change, remain to be solved through future Conferences of the Parties (COPs).
What has the Paris Agreement accomplished?
The Paris Agreement is important because it represents a breakthrough in the global fight against climate change. Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement does not distinguish between developed and developing countries; instead, all countries are coming together to work towards the 1.5 °C goal. Notably, the United States, the world’s largest economy and one of the biggest emitters of GHGs, withdrew from the Paris Agreement under President Donald Trump, who claimed that it would hurt the US economy. However, President Joe Biden signaled his intent to address climate change by returning the US to the Paris Agreement on his first day in office.
It is also important to note that the international community is not on track to achieve many of the goals of the Paris Agreement. For example, the targets brought forth at COP26 in Glasgow would not be enough to achieve the 2 °C goal, even if they were all achieved. This and other issues remain for the global community to address if the ideals articulated in the Paris Agreement are to be achieved.
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