On December 12, 2015, the 197 nations that are party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change approved unanimously to proceed with the “Paris Agreement.” The agreement represented a milestone in the word’s commitment to controlling greenhouse gas emissions.
In 1994, most nations in the world agreed to a collaborative approach to addressing climate change. That agreement was called the UNFCCC—the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since then, numerous related agreements have been established relating to various aspects of climate change, including the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. Leading into the Copenhagen discussions, hopes were high that significant, binding action would be taken on climate change. In the end, most observers considered the Copenhagen Accord a hollow victory.
That changed in 2015 at a meeting of the nations in Paris, France. This historic agreement was stimulated by a bi-lateral agreement of the United States and China—the two largest emitters of greenhouse gases, making up about 40% of worldwide emissions—that convinced others that together they could make a difference. Although the Paris Agreement was created by acclimation on December 12, 2015, it required that 55 nations, covering at least 55% of worldwide emissions, ratify the agreement before it would take effect. That threshold was reached on October 4, 2016, and the agreement entered into force 30 days later. As of today, 170 nations have ratified the agreement.
The Paris Agreement includes the following specific items:
- The immediate goal is to seek changes in emissions that will keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by the end of the century.
- A more ambitious goal includes attempting to keep the temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Centigrade.
- Individual nations make their own voluntary commitments to reducing emissions of greenhouse gases, but these commitments need to be explicit, quantitative and monitored.
- Developed nations will contribute a minimum of $100 billion US to help developing countries reduce their emissions as their economies develop.
- Nations will work together to seek a peak in global emissions—and a subsequent long-term reduction—as soon as possible.
Most experts consider the Paris Agreement a major positive step in confronting the global impacts of increasing temperatures. Most developed nations have joined the process with enthusiasm, recognizing that common action is needed and that a transition from a fossil-fuel economy is a necessary step in their further economic evolution. Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister said the following:
“There is a clear moral imperative for developed economies such as the UK to help those around the world who stand to lose most from the consequences of manmade climate change. But by putting the UK at the forefront of efforts to cut carbon emissions and develop clean energy, we can also make the most of new economic opportunities. And by taking action to create a secure natural environment, we are fulfilling a duty we owe to the next generation.”
While former US President Barack Obama was a strong proponent of the Paris Agreement, current US President Donald Trump is not. He has declared his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Agreement (under the terms of the agreement, withdrawal is not allowed until 2020). Nonetheless, other nations of the world remain committed to the agreement, with French President Macron providing global leadership. Many U.S. cities and major corporations have also pledged to continue acting in good faith with the ideas and ideals of the Paris Agreement.
Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. COP 15 Copenhagen. Available at: https://www.c2es.org/content/cop-15-copenhagen/. Accessed December 12, 2017.
Domonoske, Camila. 2017. So What Exactly Is In The Paris Climate Accord? NPR, June 1, 2017. Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/06/01/531048986/so-what-exactly-is-in-the-paris-climate-accord. Accessed December 12, 2017.
May, Theresa. 2017. It’s Britain’s duty to help nations hit by climate change. The Guardian, 11 December 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/dec/12/theresa-may-uk-green-economy. Accessed December 12, 2017.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. 2015. Paris Agreement. Available at: https://unfccc.int/files/essential_background/convention/application/pdf/english_paris_agreement.pdf. Accessed December 12, 2017.
UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement. Available at: http://unfccc.int/paris_agreement/items/9485.php. Accessed December 12, 2017.