• Legis Scriptor

Paris Agreement

Authored by - Prachi Ganeriwala

Keywords - Climate Change, Temperature rise, Carbon pollution, UNFCCC.


The Paris Agreement requires all developed as well as underdeveloped countries to make commitments towards addressing the pressing issue of climate change. Countries that are responsible for 97 percent of global emissions have already pledged their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) as to how they plan to address the issue and will revisit their current pledges by 2020. They plan to strengthen their targets towards the reduction of emissions for the year 2030. It boasts a stronger transparency and accountability system for all. While the Paris Agreement does not “solve” climate change per se, it allows us to start the next wave of global climate actions. The agreement contains provisions to hold countries accountable for their commitments and mobilize investments to assist developing countries in building low-carbon and climate-resilient economies. Encouragingly, businesses, investors, states, financial institutions, and others have also pledged actions to help the government implement the agreement.


On December 12, 2015, countries including developed as well as developing, adopted an international agreement in Paris, in order to, address climate change that requires deeper emissions reduction commitments. It is a multilateral agreement, signed on 22nd day of April, 2016 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to reduce, mitigate greenhouse-gas-emissions. The agreement incorporates provisions to hold countries accountable to their commitments and mobilize greater investments to assist developing countries in building low-carbon, climate-resilient economies. Currently, 195 UNFCCC members have signed it. However, US President Donald Trump has announced his intention to withdraw from the agreement by November 2020. This withdrawal is to take effect post November 4, 2020. Until then, the United States may participate as a party, after which, the United States may participate in a more limited way as an ‘Observer' state.

It builds upon the Convention and brings all nations into a common cause to undertake efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. The ambition of the agreement is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, the agreement aims to reinforce the ability of countries to deal with the repercussions of climate change. The Agreement further provides for enhanced transparency of action and support through a more robust framework. The parties established a 12-member committee to facilitate its implementation. The committee is intended to support parties’ efforts to meet their obligations under the PA as a pro-compliance mechanism. The compliance processes are consultative and not punitive in nature. The committee may initiate a “consideration” should a party not submit or update its NDC as required or provide mandatory communications.

Key Elements

The agreement in Paris was built on the premise of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Copenhagen and Cancun Agreements. The agreement has set out countries’ minimum obligations, implemented mechanisms to prompt additional action in developing countries, supported the most vulnerable countries in addressing climate change, and established systems to hold countries to their commitments. The Paris Agreement will be invigorated over time using its robust framework.

Analysis of the Agreement

The Paris Agreement succeeded as a new kind of climate agreement by altering the paradigm of climate diplomacy. It adopted a bottom-up structure for emissions targets (“nationally determined contributions”), balanced by top-down provisions for robust global emission goals and key accountability provisions, such as reporting and review[1].

Negotiations in 2018, concluding in December at the U.N. climate conference in Katowice, Poland also referred to as COP24, are focused on the so-called “rulebook ”guidelines and rules on matters such as accounting for emissions, reporting and review, and on the way, the new Committee on Implementation and Compliance should operate.[2] This rulebook is the cornerstone for the successful execution of the Paris Agreement.

Till date, rulebook negotiations have not gone smoothly, but the night is still young. The withdrawal of the United States might be a political level problem, but not the sole problem. Several developing countries are fretful regarding their expectancy within areas of reporting and review. These can be maneuvered if countries stay steady on the imperative of formulating an effective regime that is in congruence with the agreement. Developing countries have no need for anxiety since, 85 of them already get special, gentler treatment under the Paris Agreement as Least Developed Countries or Small Island Developing States.[3] And, for the important transparency regime of reporting on inventories and progress toward targets, “flexibility” is available to any developing country that needs it “in the light of their capacities.”[4]

All Parties need to be sensible about the level of rigor and detail required in these rules. They need to be strong enough to support ambitious action without going overboard, making developing countries feel that the central bottom-up top-down balance is getting lost. The countries will have to be responsible for making their own decisions about whether they can properly claim flexibility, with norms and expectations keeping the system honest.

Donor countries further need to reassure developing countries that they are working towards achieving their existing financial commitments. The rulebook can help turn it into a strong, lasting regime, provided it stays faithful to the Agreement itself. Finally, parties should agree that the rulebook will be amenable towards the needed modifications.

What is the Future of the Agreement?

One of the most critical outcomes of the Paris Agreement is an efficacious process for reassessing and deepening emissions reduction commitments every five years. Countries will be required to re-visit their current pledges by 2020 and, ideally, strengthen their 2030 targets because it was discovered that, at this moment, more than the anticipated action can be achieved. This will initiate a process in which countries outline their next set of commitments every five years, thereby, setting a framework for continuously relent down emissions over time towards a long-term target of emissions neutrality. Beginning in 2018 and every five years thereafter, countries will have a chance to evaluate the aggregate effort of all national pledges to determine whether the world is on a path to keep the global average temperature in conformity with the scheme.

Targets Agreed to be Implemented

Countries accountable for more than 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions made unequivocal commitments to deplete their emissions by 2020 as a part of the Copenhagen and Cancun agreements. The Paris agreement includes commitments that transcend 2020, reflecting a greater level of ambition in comparison to previous commitments. Countries’ emissions reduction commitments reflect the different degrees of development and capabilities. For example, the United States and European Union have committed to economy-wide emissions reduction targets, whereas developing countries and emerging economies have committed to targets that reflect their level of development and historic contribution to climate change. The 187 countries liable for more than 97 percent of the world’s climate pollution have promulgated definite reduction plans also identified as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).


The adoption of the Paris Agreement is a milestone in international climate politics. The Agreement creates a global process of engagement, follow-upland cooperative action. Countries have realized that a reduction in carbon pollution is in their interest. While indicating the goal of 2°C or 1.5°C, the agreement allows developed countries to commit to only such emissions reductions as they wish. A global carbon budget, defined in terms of permissible cumulative emissions from 1850 to 2100, could have provided one means to operationalize historical responsibility. Now that the case for a carbon budget has been ignored, this means is no longer available.

In proposing that temperature rise be limited to 1.5°C, the Paris Agreement ignores the scientific reality that given the global emissions expected until 2025 and 2030, even the 2°C target is difficult to meet. Thus, on the one hand, to the most vulnerable nations, especially the small island states, the agreement makes a promise that cannot be kept, conversely, for other nations, it sets a flawed goal concerning adaptation. Furthermore, not only are the emission reduction targets of developed nations inadequate, no consequences will apply if they are not met. The process of review promised in the agreement is likely to result in many bitterly disputed climate summits. At the same time, little emissions reduction is likely to occur, before the first global stock take of 2023. Therefore, it is safe to conclude that the Paris Agreement is the first step, and additional action must follow at the domestic and international level as a matter of urgency.

[1] [2]“COP24: Katowice,” Polish Ministry of the Environment, [3] For a list of the Least Developed Countries (47), see “LDC Country Information,” UNFCCC, and for a list of the Small Island Developing States that are UN members (38), see [4] UNFCCC, Paris Agreement, Article 13.2.