Feature Report: COP 21: The Paris Agreement

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Brief Overview of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement is a 17-page document covering the period after 2020. It is appended to a decision by the Conference of the Parties (COP) that addresses the period from 2015 to 20201. Once ratified or approved, the Paris Agreement will be legally binding. A summary is provided below.

Accord de Paris : un résumé en quelques points
"No Plan B": the message on the Eiffel Tower reminded everyone in Paris that global warming is an issue that must be addressed. © PATRICK KOVARIK - AFP
  • Binding, but without formal sanctions – The Paris AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... is an addition to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It is legally binding, but does not include any specific sanctions for non-compliance.  
  • Enters into force in 2020 – To enter into force in 2020, the agreement will have to be ratified, accepted or approved by at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... (GHG) emissions. It does not have to be ratified by national parliaments; government acceptance or approval is sufficient. A country may withdraw from the agreement three years after it enters into force simply by giving written notification.
  • "Well below 2°C" – Article 2 clearly states the objective of "holding the increase in 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." This non-binding reference to 1.5°C was a key point for the most vulnerable countries, notably island nations.
  • "Common but differentiated responsibilities" – Importantly, Article 2 also states that the agreement will be implemented "to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances." Developing nations were vocal in their desire to see the principle of differentiation between North and South, already spelled out in the UNFCCC, maintained in the Paris Agreement. Article 4 notes that developed countries shall "continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission-reduction targets," while developing countries should "continue enhancing their mitigation efforts" to reduce their emissions, taking into account the concept of "respective capabilities."
  • No emissions-reduction target – The Agreement does not set reduction targets for greenhouse gas emissions even though some of the draft versions included such targets. Article 4 refers to "global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties." The Agreement aims to achieve "a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks (...) in the second half of this century." Countries are encouraged to increase their absorption capacity, notably through forests.
  • Nationally determined contributions – The Agreement states that each country shall "communicate a nationally determined contribution every five years". The Parties are encouraged to update their nationally determined contributions between now and 2020, and a facilitative dialogue will be held in 2018 to assess these contributions. A "global stocktake" will be organized in 2023 and every five years thereafter. These stocktakes should lead the Parties to enhance their measures in accordance with the clearly stated concept of "progression".
  • Financing that will increase over time – Taking differentiated responsibilities into account, Article 9 states that developed countries shall "provide financial resources" and transfer technologies to assist developing countries with both mitigation (to reduce emissions) and adaptation (to respond to the effects of climate change, such as droughts, floods and extreme storms). The preliminary section outside the agreement notes that the financing commitment of $100 billion a year adopted in 2009 is a "floor" and that a new collective objective will be presented before 2025.

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