The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015 and entered into force on 4 November 2016.
Its goal is to limit global warming to well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels.
To achieve this long-term temperature goal, countries aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a climate neutral world by mid-century.
The Paris Agreement is a landmark in the multilateral climate change process because, for the first time, a binding agreement brings all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects.
What is the Paris Agreement?
The Paris Agreement united almost all the world's nations - for the first time - in a single agreement on cutting the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing global warming.
Adopted by nearly 200 countries in the French capital on 12 December 2015, it came into force on 4 November 2016.
How does the Paris Agreement work?
Implementation of the Paris Agreement requires economic and social transformation, based on the best available science. The Paris Agreement works on a 5- year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries. By 2020, countries submit their plans for climate action known as nationally determined contributions (NDCs).
In their NDCs, countries communicate actions they will take to reduce their Greenhouse Gas emissions in order to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement. Countries also communicate in the NDCs actions they will take to build resilience to adapt to the impacts of rising temperatures.
To better frame the efforts towards the long-term goal, the Paris Agreement invites countries to formulate and submit by 2020 long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies (LT-LEDS).
LT-LEDS provide the long-term horizon to the NDCs. Unlike NDCs, they are not mandatory. Nevertheless, they place the NDCs into the context of countries’ long-term planning and development priorities, providing a vision and direction for future development.
How are countries supporting one another?
The Paris Agreement provides a framework for financial, technical and capacity building support to those countries who need it.
The Paris Agreement reaffirms that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable, while for the first time also encouraging voluntary contributions by other Parties. Climate finance is needed for mitigation, because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.
The Paris Agreement speaks of the vision of fully realizing technology development and transfer for both improving resilience to climate change and reducing GHG emissions. It establishes a technology framework to provide overarching guidance to the well-functioning Technology Mechanism. The mechanism is accelerating technology development and transfer through it’s policy and implementation arms.
Not all developing countries have sufficient capacities to deal with many of the challenges brought by climate change. As a result, the Paris Agreement places great emphasis on climate-related capacity-building for developing countries and requests all developed countries to enhance support for capacity-building actions in developing countries.
How are we tracking progress?
With the Paris Agreement, countries established an enhanced transparency framework (ETF). Under ETF, starting in 2024, countries will report transparently on actions taken and progress in climate change mitigation, adaptation measures and support provided or received. It also provides for international procedures for the review of the submitted reports.
The information gathered through the ETF will feed into the Global stocktake which will assess the collective progress towards the long-term climate goals.
This will lead to recommendations for countries to set more ambitious plans in the next round.
What have we achieved so far?
Although climate change action needs to be massively increased to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement, the years since its entry into force have already sparked low-carbon solutions and new markets. More and more countries, regions, cities and companies are establishing carbon neutrality targets. Zero-carbon solutions are becoming competitive across economic sectors representing 25% of emissions. This trend is most noticeable in the power and transport sectors and has created many new business opportunities for early movers.
By 2030, zero-carbon solutions could be competitive in sectors representing over 70% of global emissions.
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What was agreed?
To "pursue efforts" to limit global temperature rises to 1.5C, and to keep them "well below" 2.0 above pre-industrial times
To limit greenhouse gas emissions from human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally - known as net zero - between 2050 and 2100
Each country to set its own emission-reduction targets, reviewed every five years to raise ambitions
Rich countries to help poorer nations by providing funding, known as climate finance, to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy
Why is it so significant for COP26?
Some of the key discussions in Glasgow will be about whether countries are doing what they promised in Paris.
When it was signed, governments admitted the targets set would not limit global warming to 1.5C. Because of this, they agreed to update them by 2020 (COP26 was delayed for a year because of covid).
All countries should have submitted new targets for reducing emissions ahead of Glasgow, but many have not come up with improved commitments and some major economies have no net zero target in place.
What about promises to help poorer countries?
The Paris Agreement restated a commitment made in 2009 that the world's richer countries should provide $100bn annually by 2020 to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change, and build greener economies.
But in 2019 only $79.6bn was raised. What's more, a recent expert report for the United Nations said the goal would not be reached until 2023 - even though a new and more ambitious target is supposed to be set for 2025.
For many countries, this is the biggest issue to resolve at COP26 - and the very poorest are demanding action.
Did the Paris Agreement go far enough?
The plan is to create a "climate-neutral" world by the middle of the century. That means reducing greenhouse gas emissions as much as possible and compensating for any remaining emissions by removing them from the atmosphere, using natural or artificial processes.
The average global temperature has already risen by about 1.1C, and scientists say action must be stepped up if we are to have any chance of curbing dangerous climate change.
They also say limiting the temperature rise to no more that 1.5C - rather than letting it go to 2C - would help millions of people avoid the dangerous impacts of extreme weather, and prevent sea level rises that would see small island states sink beneath the waves.
Deepak Anand Nandan Ji