The Paris Agreement (French: l'accord de Paris) is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance, signed in 2016. The agreement's language was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, near Paris, France, and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015. As of March 2021, 191 members of the UNFCCC are parties to the agreement. Of the six UNFCCC member states which have not ratified the agreement, the only major emitters are Iran, Iraq and Turkey, though Iraq's president has approved that country's accession. The United States withdrew from the agreement in 2020 under the leadership of Donald Trump, but rejoined in 2021 after Joe Biden became President.
|Drafted||30 November – 12 December 2015 in Le Bourget, France|
|Signed||22 April 2016|
|Effective||4 November 2016|
|Condition||Ratification and accession by 55 UNFCCC parties, accounting for 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions|
|Depositary||Secretary-General of the United Nations|
|Languages||Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish|
|Paris Agreement at Wikisource|
The Paris Agreement's long-term temperature goal is to keep the rise in global average temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F) above pre-industrial levels; and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F), recognizing that this would substantially reduce the risks and impacts of climate change. This should be done by reducing emissions as soon as possible, in order to "achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases" in the second half of the 21st century. It also aims to increase the ability of parties to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change, and make "finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development."
Under the Paris Agreement, each country must determine, plan, and regularly report on the contribution that it undertakes to mitigate global warming. No mechanism forces a country to set a specific emissions target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets. In contrast to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the distinction between developed and developing countries is blurred, so that the latter also have to submit plans for emission reductions.
The Paris Agreement was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 (Earth Day) at a ceremony in New York. After the European Union ratified the agreement in October 2016, there were enough countries that had ratified the agreement that produce enough of the world's greenhouse gases for the agreement to enter into force. The agreement went into effect on 4 November 2016.
The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, regulated greenhouse gas reductions for a limited set of countries from 2008 to 2012. The protocol was extended until 2020 with the Doha Amendment in 2012. The United States decided not to ratify the Protocol, mainly because of its legally-binding nature. This, and distributional conflict, led to failures of subsequent international climate negotiations. The 2009 round of negotiations were intended to produce a successor treaty of Kyoto, but the resulting Copenhagen Accord was not legally binding and did not get adopted universally.
The Accord did lay the framework for bottom-up approach of what would become the Paris Agreement. Under the leadership of UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres, negotiation regained momentum after Copenhagen's failure. During the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the Durban Platform was established with the aim to negotiate a legal instrument governing climate change mitigation measures from 2020. The resulting agreement was to be adopted in 2015.
At the conclusion of COP21 (the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties, which guides the Conference), on 12 December 2015, the final wording of the Paris Agreement was adopted by consensus by all of the 195 UNFCCC participating member states and the European Union to reduce emissions as part of the method for reducing greenhouse gas. In the 12-page Agreement, the members promised to reduce their carbon output "as soon as possible" and to do their best to keep global warming "to well below 2 °C" [3.6 °F].
Signing and entry into force
The Paris Agreement was open for signature by states and regional economic integration organizations that are parties to the UNFCCC (the Convention) from 22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017 at the UN Headquarters in New York. Signing of the Agreement is the first step towards ratification , but it is possible to accede to the agreement without signing. It binds parties to not act in contravention of the goal of the treaty. On 1 April 2016, the United States and China, which together represent almost 40% of global emissions, issued a joint statement confirming that both countries would sign the Paris Climate Agreement. The agreement was signed by 175 Parties (174 states and the European Union) on the first day it was opened for signature. As of March 2021, 194 states and the European Union have signed the Agreement.
The agreement would enter into force (and thus become fully effective) if 55 countries that produce at least 55% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions (according to a list produced in 2015) ratify the treaty, by "acceptance, approval or accession". With ratification by the European Union, the Agreement obtained enough parties to enter into effect on 4 November 2016.
Both the EU and its member states are individually responsible for ratifying the Paris Agreement. A strong preference was reported that the EU and its 28 member states deposit their instruments of ratification at the same time to ensure that neither the EU nor its member states engage themselves to fulfilling obligations that strictly belong to the other, and there were fears that disagreement over each individual member state's share of the EU-wide reduction target, as well as Britain's vote to leave the EU might delay the Paris pact. However, the EU deposited its instruments of ratification on 5 October 2016, along with several individual EU member states.
The EU and 190 states, have ratified or acceded to the Agreement, including China and India, the countries with the 1st and 3rd largest CO2 emissions among UNFCCC members. As of January 2021 greenhouse gas emissions by Iran and by Turkey are both over 1% of the world total. Eritrea, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are the only other countries which have never ratified the agreement. Iraq is planning to ratify the Agreement after a parliamentary vote in favour in September 2020.
Article 28 of the agreement enables parties to withdraw from the agreement after sending a withdrawal notification to the depositary. Notice can be given no earlier than three years after the agreement goes into force for the country. Withdrawal is effective one year after the depositary is notified.
United States withdrawal and readmittance
On August 4, 2017, the Trump administration delivered an official notice to the United Nations that the United States, the second largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the world, intends to withdraw from the Paris Agreement as soon as it was legally eligible to do so. The formal notice of withdrawal could not be submitted until the agreement was in force for three years for the US, on November 4, 2019. On November 4, 2019, the U.S. government deposited the withdrawal notification with the Secretary General of the United Nations, the depositary of the agreement, and officially withdrew from the Paris climate accord one year later when the withdrawal became effective.
Joe Biden signed an executive order on his first day in office, January 20, 2021, to re-admit the United States into the Paris Agreement. Following the 30-day period set by Article 21.3, the U.S. was readmitted to the Agreement on February 19, 2021. United States Climate Envoy John Kerry took part in virtual events, saying that the US would "earn its way back" into legitimacy in the Paris process. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the return of the United States as restoring the “missing link that weakened the whole."
The aim of the agreement, as described in its Article 2, is to have a stronger response to the danger of climate change; it seeks to enhance the implementation of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) through:
(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
Nationally determined contributions
The contributions each country should make to achieve the worldwide goal are determined by that country and are therefore called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Article 3 requires NDCs to be "ambitious efforts" towards "achieving the purpose of this Agreement" and to "represent a progression over time". The contributions should be set every five years and are to be registered by the UNFCCC Secretariat. Each further ambition should be more ambitious than the previous one, known as the principle of 'progression'. Countries can cooperate and pool their nationally determined contributions. The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions pledged during the 2015 Climate Change Conference are converted to NDCs when a country ratifies the Paris Agreement, unless they submit an update.
The Paris Agreement does not set in stone the nature of the NDCs. At a minimum, they should contain mitigation provisions, but they may also contain pledges on adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and transparency. Some of the pledges in the NDCs are unconditional, but parties have made other conditionals on outside factors such as getting finance and technical support, the level of ambition from other parties or the details of rules of the Paris Agreement that are yet to be set. Most NDCs have a conditinal component.
While the NDCs themselves are not binding, the procedures surrounding them are (setting a more ambitious NDC every five years). There is no mechanism to force a country to set a target in their NDC by a specific date and no enforcement if a set target in an NDC is not met. There will be only a "name and shame" system or as János Pásztor, the U.N. assistant secretary-general on climate change, stated, a "name and encourage" plan. Reporting is called the "Enhanced Transparency Framework (ETF)" and parties to the agreement send their first Biennial Transparency Report (BTR), and greenhouse gas inventory figures in standard format, to the UNFCCC by 2024 and every two years after that (developed countries submit their first BTR in 2022 and inventories annually from that year).
Under the Paris Agreement, countries must increase their ambition every five years. To facilitate this, the Agreement established the Global Stocktake, which assesses progress, with the first evaluation in 2023. The outcome is to be used as input for new nationally determined contributions of parties. The Talanoa Dialogue in 2018 was seen as an example for the global stocktake. After a year of discussion, a report was published and there was a call for action, but countries did not increase ambition afterwards.
The stocktake works as part of the Paris Agreement's effort to create a "ratcheting up" of ambition in emissions cuts. Because analysts agreed in 2014 that the NDCs would not limit rising temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius, the global stocktake reconvenes parties to assess how their new NDCs must evolve so that they continually reflect a country's "highest possible ambition". While ratcheting up the ambition of NDCs is a major aim of the global stocktake, it assesses efforts beyond mitigation. The 5-year reviews will also evaluate adaptation, climate finance provisions, and technology development and transfer.
The Paris Agreement has a 'bottom up' structure in contrast to most international environmental law treaties, which are 'top down', characterized by standards and targets set internationally, for states to implement. Unlike its predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets commitment targets that have legal force, the Paris Agreement, with its emphasis on consensus building, allows for voluntary and nationally determined targets. The specific climate goals are thus politically encouraged, rather than legally bound. Only the processes governing the reporting and review of these goals are mandated under international law. This structure is especially notable for the United States—because there are no legal mitigation or finance targets, the agreement is considered an "executive agreement rather than a treaty". Because the UNFCCC treaty of 1992 received the consent of the US Senate, this new agreement does not require further legislation from Congress.
Another key difference between the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol is their scope. While the Kyoto Protocol differentiated between Annex-1 and non-Annex-1 countries, this division is blurred in the Paris Agreement, as all parties are required to submit emissions reductions plans. The Paris Agreement still emphasizes the principle of "Common but Differentiated Responsibility and Respective Capabilities"—the acknowledgement that different nations have different capacities and duties to climate action—but it does not provide a specific division between developed and developing nations.
Mitigation provisions and carbon markets
Article 6 has been flagged as containing some of the key provisions of the Paris Agreement. Broadly, it outlines the cooperative approaches that parties can take in achieving their nationally determined carbon emissions reductions. In doing so, it helps establish the Paris Agreement as a framework for a global carbon market. Article 6 is the last part of the Agreement that needs to be ironed out; negotiations in 2019 did not produce a result. The topic is now expected to be ironed out during the 2021 negotiations in Glasgow.
Linkage of carbon trading systems
Paragraphs 6.2 and 6.3 establish a framework to govern the international transfer of mitigation outcomes (ITMOs). The Agreement recognizes the rights of Parties to use emissions reductions outside of their own jurisdiction toward their NDC, in a system of carbon accounting and trading. This provision requires the "linkage" of various carbon emissions trading systems—because measured emissions reductions must avoid "double counting", transferred mitigation outcomes must be recorded as a gain of emission units for one party and a reduction of emission units for the other. Because the NDCs, and domestic carbon trading schemes, are heterogeneous, the ITMOs will provide a format for global linkage under the auspices of the UNFCCC. The provision thus also creates a pressure for countries to adopt emissions management systems—if a country wants to use more cost-effective cooperative approaches to achieve their NDCs, they will need to monitor carbon units for their economies.
Sustainable Development Mechanism
Paragraphs 6.4-6.7 establish a mechanism "to contribute to the mitigation of greenhouse gases and support sustainable development". Though there is no official name for the mechanism as yet, it has been referred to as the Sustainable Development Mechanism or SDM. The SDM is considered to be the successor to the Clean Development Mechanism, a mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol by which parties could collaboratively pursue emissions reductions.
In its basic aim, the SDM will largely resemble the Clean Development Mechanism, with the dual mission of contributing to global GHG emissions reductions and supporting sustainable development. Though the structure and processes governing the SDM are not yet determined, certain similarities and differences from the Clean Development Mechanisms can already be seen. Notably, the SDM, unlike the Clean Development Mechanism, will be available to all parties as opposed to only Annex-1 parties, making it much wider in scope.
The Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol was criticized for failing to produce either meaningful emissions reductions or sustainable development benefits in most instances. It has also suffered from the low price of Certified Emissions Reductions (CERs), creating less demand for projects. These criticisms have motivated the recommendations of various stakeholders, who have provided through working groups and reports, new elements they hope to see in SDM that will bolster its success.
Adaptation issues garnered more focus in the formation of the Paris Agreement. Collective, long-term adaptation goals are included in the Agreement, and countries must report on their adaptation actions, making adaptation a parallel component of the agreement with mitigation. The adaptation goals focus on enhancing adaptive capacity, increasing resilience, and limiting vulnerability.
At the Paris Conference in 2015 where the Agreement was negotiated, the developed countries reaffirmed the commitment to mobilize $100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020, and agreed to continue mobilizing finance at the level of $100 billion a year until 2025. The money is for supporting mitigation and adaptation in developing countries. The money includes funds for the Green Climate Fund, which is a part of the UNFCCC, but also a variety of other public and private pledges. The Paris Agreement states that a new commitment of at least $100 billion per year has to be agreed before 2025.
Though both mitigation and adaptation require increased climate financing, adaptation has typically received lower levels of support and has mobilized less action from the private sector. A report by the OECD found that just 16 percent of global climate finance was directed toward climate adaptation in 2013–2014. The Paris Agreement called for a balance of climate finance between adaptation and mitigation, and specifically underscored the need to increase adaptation support for parties most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including Least developed countries and Small Island Developing States. The agreement also reminds parties of the importance of public grants, because adaptation measures receive less investment from the public sector.
Some specific outcomes of the elevated attention to adaptation financing in Paris include the G7 countries' announcement to provide US$420 million for climate risk insurance, and the launching of a Climate Risk and Early Warning Systems (CREWS) Initiative. The largest donors to multilateral climate funds, which includes the Green Climate Fund, are the Unites States, the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, France and Sweden.
Loss and damage
A new issue that emerged as a focal point in the Paris negotiations rose from the fact that many of the worst effects of climate change will be too severe or come too quickly to be avoided by adaptation measures. The Paris Agreement specifically acknowledges the need to address loss and damage of this kind, and aims to find appropriate responses. It specifies that loss and damage can take various forms—both as immediate impacts from extreme weather events, and slow-onset impacts, such as the loss of land to sea level rise for low-lying islands.
The push to address loss and damage as a distinct issue in the Paris Agreement came from the Alliance of Small Island States and the Least Developed Countries, whose economies and livelihoods are most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. The Warsaw Mechanism, established two years earlier, categorized loss and damage as a subset of adaptation, which was unpopular with many countries. It was recognized as a separate pillar within the Paris Agreement. The United States argued against this, possibly worried that classifying the issue as separate from adaptation would create yet another climate finance provision.
In the end, all parties acknowledged the need for "averting, minimizing, and addressing loss and damage" but the text specifies that it cannot be used as the basis for liability. The agreement also adopts the Warsaw International Mechanism, an institution that will attempt to address questions about how to classify, address, and share responsibility for loss.
Enhanced transparency framework
While each Party's NDC is not legally binding, the Parties are legally bound to have their progress tracked by technical expert review to assess achievement toward the NDC, and to determine ways to strengthen ambition. Article 13 of the Paris Agreement articulates an "enhanced transparency framework for action and support" that establishes harmonized monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) requirements. Thus, both developed and developing nations must report every two years on their mitigation efforts, and all parties will be subject to both technical and peer review.
While the enhanced transparency framework is universal, along with the global stocktaking to occur every 5 years, the framework is meant to provide "built-in flexibility" to distinguish between developed and developing countries' capacities. In conjunction with this, the Paris Agreement has provisions for an enhanced framework for capacity building. The agreement recognizes the varying circumstances of some countries, and specifically notes that the technical expert review for each country consider that country's specific capacity for reporting. The agreement also develops a Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency to assist developing countries in building the necessary institutions and processes for complying with the transparency framework.
There are several ways that flexibility mechanisms can be incorporated into the enhanced transparency framework. The scope, level of detail, or frequency of reporting may all be adjusted and tiered based on a country's capacity. The requirement for in-country technical reviews could be lifted for some less developed or small island developing countries. Ways to assess capacity include financial and human resources in a country necessary for NDC review.
Implementation and effectiveness
The process of translating the Paris Agreement into national agendas and implementation has started. One example is the commitment of the least developed countries (LDCs). The LDC Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Initiative for Sustainable Development, known as LDC REEEI, is set to bring sustainable, clean energy to millions of energy-starved people in LDCs, facilitating improved energy access, the creation of jobs and contributing to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
There are various barriers to implementing the Agreement. Some countries struggle to attract the finance often considered necessary for investments in decarbonisation. Climate finance is fragmented, further complicating investments. Another issue is the lack of capabilities within government and other institutions to implement policy. Clean technology and knowledge is often not transferred to countries or places that need it. In December 2020, the former chair of the COP 21, Laurent Fabius, argued that the implementation of the Paris Agreement could be bolstered by the adoption of a Global Pact for the Environment. The latter would define the environmental rights and duties of States, individuals and businesses. This project is currently under discussion at the United Nations.
In 2021, a study using a fully statistical probabilistic model concluded that the rates of emissions reductions need to increase by 80% beyond NDCs to likely meet the 2 °C upper target range of Earth's Paris Agreement, that the probabilities of major emitters meeting their NDCs without such an increase is very low, estimating that with current trends the probability of staying below 2 °C of warming is 5% – and if NDCs were met and continued post-2030 by all signatory systems 26%.
Effect on temperatures
The negotiators of the agreement stated that the "Intended Nationally Determined Contributions" (as NDCs were referred to at the time of the negotiations) presented at the time of the Paris Conference were insufficient, noting "with concern that the estimated aggregate greenhouse gas emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the intended nationally determined contributions do not fall within least-cost 2 °C scenarios but rather lead to a projected level of 55 gigatonnes in 2030", and recognizing furthermore "that much greater emission reduction efforts will be required in order to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 °C by reducing emissions to 40 gigatonnes or to 1.5 °C."
In July 2020 the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) announced that it assesses the chance of exceeding 1.5 °C around 20% in at least one year between 2020 and 2024.
An April 2020 study showed that implementation of current policies leaves a median emission gap of 22.4 to 28.2 GtCO2eq by 2030 with the "optimal" pathways to implement the well below 2 °C and 1.5 °C Paris goals. If Nationally Determined Contributions were to be fully implemented, this gap would be reduced by a third. The countries evaluated were found to not achieve their pledged contributions with implemented policies (implementation gap), or to have an ambition gap with optimal pathways towards well below 2 °C. The study showed that all countries would need to accelerate the implementation of policies for renewable technologies, while efficiency improvements are especially important in emerging countries and fossil-fuel-dependent countries.
None of the major industrialized emitters meet target
A pair of studies in Nature found that as of 2017 none of the major industrialized nations were implementing the policies they had pledged, and none met their pledged emission reduction targets, and even if they had, the sum of all member pledges (as of 2016) would not keep global temperature rise "well below 2 °C".
According to the 2020 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), with the current climate commitments of the Paris Agreement, global mean temperatures will likely rise by more than 3 °C by the end of the 21st century. Newer net-zero commitments were not included in the NDCs, and may bring down temperatures a further 1.5 °C. To limit global temperature rise to 1.5 °C, a global emission reduction of 7.6% is needed every year between 2020 and 2030.
The four top emitters of greenhouse gasses, in decreasing order of annual emissions China, United States, EU27 and India, contributed over 55% of the world's total emissions over the last decade, excluding emissions from land-use change such as deforestation. Among these top four emitters, some have actually increased their annual emissions: China's emissions grew 1.6% in 2018 to reach a high of 13.7 Gt of CO2 equivalent. The U.S., which is responsible for 13% of global emissions, saw emissions rise by 2.5% in 2018. To meet the 1.5C target, by 2030 the U.S. would have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 57–63% below 2005 levels, according to a report by Climate Change Tracker. The European Union emits 8.5% of global emissions, and has seen its emissions decline 1% every year across the last decade. EU emissions declined 1.3% in 2018. India's 7% of global emissions grew 5.5% in 2018.
The agreement was lauded by many, including French President François Hollande and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but criticism has also surfaced. For example, James Hansen, a former NASA scientist and a climate change expert, voiced anger that most of the agreement consists of "promises" or aims and not firm commitments. He called the Paris talks a fraud with 'no action, just promises' and feels that only an across the board tax on CO
2 emissions, something not part of the Paris Agreement, would force CO
2 emissions down fast enough to avoid the worst effects of global warming. Institutional asset owners associations and think-tanks have also observed that the stated objectives of the Paris Agreement have also questioned whether pollutors will voluntarily control emissions.
When the agreement achieved enough signatures to cross the threshold on 5 October 2016, US President Barack Obama said that "Even if we meet every target ... we will only get to part of where we need to go." He also said that "this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change. It will help other nations ratchet down their emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations." The president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, called the agreement "balanced and long-lasting".
With their ratification, countries' commitment to the Paris Agreement has become a focal point of climate change litigation to assure countries maintain these commitments. One of the first major cases in this area was State of the Netherlands v. Urgenda Foundation, which was raised against the Netherlands' government after it had reduced its planned emissions reductions goal for 2030 prior to the Paris Agreement. After an initial ruling against the government in 2015 that required it to maintain its planned reduction, the decision was upheld on appeals through the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in 2019, ruling that the Dutch government failed to uphold human rights under Dutch law and the European Convention on Human Rights by lower its emission targets.
In a first-of-its-kind case, the district court of The Hague ruled against oil company Royal Dutch Shell in May 2021 in Milieudefensie et al v Royal Dutch Shell that the company must cut its global emissions by 45% from 2019 levels by 2030, as it too was in violation of human rights. This lawsuit was considered the first major application of the Paris Agreement towards a corporation.
- 2020s in environmental history
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