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What is the Paris Agreement and what pledges have countries made?

What is the Paris Agreement and what pledges have countries made?


Source: United Nations UNFCCC
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) is an international environment treaty that entered into force in March 1994, and today has near universal membership. There has been a Congress of Parties (COP) meeting every year since 1995 (with the exception of 2020 due to COVID19) to bring the Parties together to share the latest data and ideas around climate change and to negotiate how the Parties will reach the UNFCCC’s goals.

The objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.” It states that “such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened, and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” Over the 25 annual meetings to date there have been notable agreements made, the most important to date being the Paris Agreement at COP21.


The Paris Agreement

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. It is a commitment by the Parties to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, and 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 (latest 2030) and 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. 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. 

So how many countries have submitted their NDCs on time and how ambitious are they. Climate Action Tracker (CAT) is an independent scientific analysis of country pledges and actions. Climate Tracker, Last updated Jan 4th, 2021 – see graph which shows only 34 countries (including all of the EU) have updated their NDCs. But this includes China, the world’s largest polluter, which has pledged to reach peak emissions before 2030 and achieve net zero carbon emissions before 2060 – 10 years outside of the Paris Agreement target. China has ambitions to a leader in clean technology (today it produces and consumes the most

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solar and wind power) but it still has half the world’s coal capacity and will need to phase out coal entirely by 2040 to reach the Paris Agreement goals. Currently it has no plans to do so. The USA under President Trump left the Paris Agreement and over his Presidency the US has taken steps backwards to reign in GHG emissions. President Joe Biden has pledged to reverse this and for the US to cut emissions to net zero by 2050, though this must still be ratified. The 28 members of the EU updated the NDCs in September 2020 but their pledges to reduce GHG emissions by 2030 is still not deemed sufficient to reach the Paris Goals. The Paris Agreement also 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 its 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.

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