The Paris Agreement is an agreement among the leaders of 179 countries to significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in order to limit global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F) and ideally below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7°F) by the year 2100.
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change is also called the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP21). The two-week conference leading to the agreement was held in Paris in December 2015).
The agreement is a replacement for the 2005 Kyoto Protocol and a success over the failed 2009 attempt to reach an agreement in Copenhagen. One of the most significant turn out of the agreement was that both the United States and China signed on. Together, the US and China are responsible for about 38% of global emissions, with 20.09% attributable to China and 17.89% attributable to the United States. All signatories agreed to the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to rising temperatures and other risks that affect the entire world. Another significant component of the agreement is that it includes countries that rely on oil and gas production revenue. Each country that attended COP21 agreed to cut its emissions by a particular percent based on a base year’s emission’s level. The United States, for example, promised to cut its emissions by up to 28% from 2005 levels. These promises are called “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs). It was decided that each participating country would be allowed to determine its own priorities and targets since each country has different circumstances and a different capacity to undertake change. For the agreement to actually enter into force, at least 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions needed to join it. Working on the agreement and actually entering into a commitment to meet emissions-reduction promises were two separate events. The agreement opened for signatures to formal commitment in April 2016 and closed in April 2017. After a country’s leader decided to join the agreement, he or she then had to gain domestic government approval or pass a domestic law to be able to officially participate. The United States accomplished this using a presidential executive order signed by Barak Obama. The European Union and India also ratified it. The participation of these major players and China was key to meeting the 55% mark, since the original 24 countries that ratified the agreement only contributed to 1% of global emissions.
Environmental groups, while supportive, have cautioned that the agreement is not sufficient to prevent catastrophic global warming because countries’ carbon emissions reduction pledges will not be sufficient to meet temperature goals. Other criticisms relate to disagreements over climate change science and the agreement’s ability to address climate change-related losses in the most vulnerable countries, such as most African countries, many South Asian countries, and several South and Central American countries. What makes these countries especially vulnerable, according to the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, is their lack of economic, government and societal preparedness as well as their food, water, health, ecosystem service, human habitat, and infrastructure. And while some parts of the agreement are legally binding, there is no legal global enforcement mechanism for countries that fail to meet their nationally determined emissions-reduction targets. Signatories are encouraged to develop renewable energy sources and build infrastructure such as sea walls to protect against the effects of global warming. Every five years, companies must report on their progress towards and future plans for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement also requires developed countries to send $100 billion a year to developing countries starting in 2020, when the agreement becomes effective, with increases over time.