Some Key Points of the Paris Agreement

By David Okul
May 19, 2019

It is widely known that the world is facing a climate crisis. Climate change and global warming have already made the earth's temperature increase by one-degree centigrade. The increase might appear small, but it has significant (mostly negative) effects on biodiversity, food supply, oceans, and extreme climatic events. The governments of the world need to act, and they did, via the Paris Agreement.

On 12 December 2015, 196 parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Paris Agreement at COP 21 in Paris. The Agreement included a new legal framework that aimed at tackling climate change. The agreement involved 6 years of intense lobbying and was achieved under pressure to avoid the failures of the Copenhagen conference in 2009.

The agreement recognizes the economic levels of each country. Based on the principle of the common, each country has differentiated responsibilities as per its capability. Ergo, developed countries continue to take the lead on mitigating climate change while supporting the actions of developing countries.

The agreement could not come into force until 55 nations representing at 55% of global emissions had officially joined. The threshold was reached on October 2016, and the agreement came into force 30 days later, on 4th November 2016. As of January 2019, it had been ratified by 185 of the 197 countries that signed it. As of December 2018, the major emitting countries that were yet to join include Iran, Turkey, and Russia.

Ice Melting in Greenland
Melting Ice leading to sea level rise is one of the impacts of climate change (Image source, NRDC, Via Christopher Michel on Flickr

Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, the Paris Agreement does not focus on country-specific targets. Instead, the agreement favors voluntary mitigation contributions.

Form of the Paris Agreement

The agreement is a treaty under international law and would replace and improve the Kyoto Protocol, which also aimed at reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gases. The Conference of parties (COP) to the UNFCC adopted the agreement. As a treaty under the international law, the parties would be bound to one another by the terms in the agreement.


At the center of the Paris Agreement is the goal of holding the global warming levels to below 2 degrees above the preindustrial levels. In fact, it aspires to limit the temperature increase to below 1.5 degrees centigrade.  The choice of two degrees is in line with the recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

All parties to the agreement need to make profound changes to their economies if the goals are to be achieved.

Four items are pertinent in the goal of the agreement:

  • Lower temperature goal
  • Legally binding agreement
  • Review emission commitments for countries every five years
  • The mechanism for tracking the progress of countries in meeting targets

Although parties could not agree on the specific date the global emissions were to pick, there was a consensus that such an agreement was to pick ‘as soon as possible’

Two types of action are vital to ensure that the agreement’s targets are met:

  1. The rates of greenhouse gases emitted have to reduce to a point where there is a balance between emission and sequestration
  2. Countries have to increase the options to sequester carbon. Higher rates of sequestration permit more residual GHG emissions.

National Actions

All parties to the agreement need to develop plans on how to contribute to climate change mitigation and would communicate the ‘nationally determined contributions’ (NDC) to the Secretariat of the convection. It is important to note that the initial NDCs fell short of the target. Nevertheless, the agreement presented an effective first step. The NDCs need to be communicated at a 5 year period interval with each report presenting an improvement. A technical expert review would validate the reports as parties are required to provide the information necessary for clarity, transparency, and understanding.

Developed countries should adopt economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets immediately while developing countries should aim at the reduction over time.

The agreement allows for parties to cooperate in achieving their NDCs via:

  • Formulating joint NDC’s within a regional economic integration such as the European Union
  • Implementing formal emission trading where the transfer of mitigation outcomes could be used by another country to fulfill its NDC
  • Private and public entities could be allowed to undertake mitigation projects that generate transferable GHG emissions

Although the agreement fails to make a direct reference to market-based approaches, it allows for the transfer of emissions reductions and removals.

Image Source:
Anthropogenic emissions are a cause of greenhouse gases and global warming

Other Points in the Agreement

  • Article five of the agreement is dedicated to forests in an effort to anchor existing forest provisions in the agreement. Parties are encouraged to support existing frameworks such as REDD+. The non-carbon benefits of forests are also acknowledged.
  • The agreement does not make a direct reference to agriculture. Nevertheless, a reference to food production in article 2 insinuates that the agricultural sector is expected to take a lead in reducing GHG emissions
  • Article 13 of the agreement provides a mechanism that ensures that countries have a framework for reporting their NDC
  • The first stocktaking of the agreement is scheduled for 2023
  • Article 7 provides mechanisms for adapting to climate change. The goal of adaptation have been generally absent from previous UNFCCC agreements
  • Developed countries were requested to take the lead in acquiring the financial resources for implementing the agreement (article 9). Developed countries are also required to submit biennial reports of the assistance they give.
  • Article 10 promotes the transfer of technology while article 11 encourage parties to cooperate to enhance capacities
  • In addressing loss and damage, the agreement extends the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage
  • The agreement has a global goal of adaptation that was lacking in previous frameworks. African countries had been pushing for adaptation in climate change since its introduction in Copenhagen 2009. However, the goals were qualitative whereas African countries favored quantitative goals.

The Paris Agreement provides a framework for which countries are expected to define their NDC targets. It is anchored on a collaborative approach that seeks each country commitment to dealing with climate change.

References and Resources

David Okul is a freelance writer, and a PhD student at a Kenyan university

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Peter

    As long as countries keep favoring economics over environmental matters, the Paris, or any other agreement is a dead end

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