Feature Report: The Challenges of Applying the Paris Agreement

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Nations' Responsibility in Climate Action

The world’s nations have a major responsibility in the fight against global warming, as the Paris Agreement commits them to setting their own greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets. National climate action plans will have to be significantly improved if global warming is to be limited to 2°C – or preferably 1.5°C – by 2100. However, U.S. President Donald Trump’s announcement in June 2017 of the United States’ withdrawal has cast great uncertainty over the future of this process. 

Image of the so-called "One Planet Summit" conference, held in Paris in December 2017, with 50 world leaders.
The One Planet Summit held in Paris in December 2017 brought together 50 world leaders to discuss how to give fresh momentum to efforts to combat climate change. ©LUDOVIC MARIN / AFP

The negotiators of the December 2015 Paris AgreementOil contract under which the oil that is produced is shared between the state and the oil company... wagered that countries could achieve results if they were left to regulate themselves provided they furnished transparent, freely accessible statistics. This method was chosen over that of imposing binding global limits in an international agreement that might never actually be applied – a strategy trialed in the 1997 Kyoto ProtocolInternational agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change... .

In 2018, the countries of the world will be called on to review their voluntary contributions to make up the shortfall in emissions reduction efforts. Guiding them will be an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988... report outlining what must be done to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. But before this, they will have to navigate the sometimes complex ratification process to ensure the Paris Agreement comes into force in 2020. The situation of the four regions generating the most emissions is outlined below1.

2018: The year in which countries worldwide will be called on to improve their GHG emissions reduction plans.


China and the United StatesThe success of the Paris Agreement was largely due to the Sino-American dynamic that was set in motion by then President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who had announced their ambitions together at bilateral summits.

China has pledged that by 2030, or sooner if possible, it will have peaked its CO2See Carbon Dioxid emissions and increased the amount of non-fossil fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... sources in its energy mixThe range of energy sources of a region. to 20% – a challenge in a country that still relies heavily on coalCoal is ranked by its degree of transformation or maturity, increasing in carbon content from... . These targets were included in China's 13th Five‑Year Plan adopted in March 2016. China has also indicated its intention to push rich countries to take more action, particularly in supporting less-developed economies.

For the first time, the United States had accepted the idea of quantified targets. However, in June 2017, six months after his election, President Trump announced his country’s withdrawal from the climate agreement. The legal process is a long one and the official exit will not theoretically take place until November 4, 2020 – one day after the next U.S. presidential election. The other signatories of the Paris Agreement have ruled out any possible renegotiation with their American partner.

China has pledged to peak its CO2 emissions in 2030, and earlier if possible.


The European Union (E.U.) – Often cited as a star performer in terms of climate action, the E.U. has set a collective target of reducing 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... emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. By the same deadline, it plans to increase the share of renewable energies to at least 27% and to improve energy efficiencyIn economic terms, energy efficiency refers to the efforts made to reduce the energy consumption of a system... by at least 27%. In addition, the European Union has committed to providing a further €9 billion for the fight against climate change, to compensate for the financial loss resulting from the American withdrawal.

India – India aims to increase the share of renewables used in its powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... generation mix to 40% by 2030, a move that notably confirms its efforts to expand its use of solar power. Despite this, the country remains heavily dependent on coal to meet its foreseeable needs. India is expected to be by far the world's most populous country in 2050, with 1.7 billion citizens compared with China's forecast 1.4 billion. India has also hinged its targets on receiving aid from the Green Climate Fund or other mechanisms, and on technology transfers. In this respect, it leads a number of emerging economies in insisting on the conditional nature of its commitment.