November 22, 2022

What is the Paris Agreement?

Climate change is an international and global issue, hence the Paris Agreement signalled a new start to climate negotiations amongst states, with states collectively acknowledging the need to combat climate change. The Paris Agreement is an international treaty aimed at limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C. Currently, 193 states (192 including the European Union) are signatories to the statute, and each party has to maintain nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and communicate a new NDC every five years. 

The Paris Agreement builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC has near universal membership and is the parent treaty of the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol. 

History of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is not the first international treaty to tackle climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted, but only entered into force in 2005, with 192 parties currently signatories to the Protocol. Unlike the Paris Agreement, where all parties have to maintain nationally determined contributions to limit climate change, the Kyoto Protocol required developed countries to adopt legally binding targets. A key reason why the Protocol did not work was because countries such as China and India did not have to commit to legally binding targets, and the United States Senate refused to join the treaty from the start. 

When drawing up the Paris Agreement, the UNFCCC had to ensure that each country, especially the United States, would sign the Agreement. The United States formally entered into the agreement under international law through executive order as the agreement did not impose any new legal obligations and did not have to go through the senate for ratification. 

Key Aspects of the Paris Agreement

Compared to previous international climate agreements, the Paris Agreement is a landmark achievement. China, India and the United States, who are responsible for more than 97% of global carbon emissions have ratified the treaty. Below are some of the key aspects of the Paris Agreement: 

Limit global temperature rise - The aim of the Paris Agreement is to address climate change and its negative impacts. To do this, the Agreement reaffirms to pursue efforts to limit global temperature rise to 1.5C. 

Nationally Determined Contributions - The Paris Agreement requires parties to “prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs”. Alongside these commitments, countries have to pursue domestic mitigation measures to ensure they meet the objectives of their NDCs. The agreement does not specify how or how much countries should cut emissions, but countries have to submit a new NDC every five years, which should build upon the previous NDCs. 

Framework for financial, technical and capacity building support - The Agreement provides support for developing countries who do not have the capacity to manage the effects of climate change through articles 9, 10 and 11. The agreement reaffirms that developed countries should provide financial assistance to developing countries through a financial mechanism which is called the Green Climate Fund.  

Transparency and Accountability - The Agreement relies on precise and concise reporting methods, related to the ability of parties to the statute. Information provided by parties as stated under Article 13 should undergo a technical expert review process, and support is given to developing countries during the review process. 

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