195 Countries Agree to Take Action on Climate Change

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties in Paris culminated on Saturday, December 12, 2015, with nearly 200 countries reaching an agreement to address climate change.  The Paris Agreement  requires large-scale reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as part of a nearly universal effort to “[h]old[] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” (Article 2.1(a)).  Key elements at the heart of the Paris Agreement include:

  • Emissions Targets.  The parties have agreed to set national emissions targets every five years in Article 4.  Developed countries are required to set economy-wide emissions reduction targets.  Developing countries are given more flexibility to tailor emissions abatement to their particular national circumstances, but are encouraged to move toward set limitation targets over time.  Beginning in 2023 there will be a “global stocktake” every five years, described in Article 14, to assess the progress made towards the Agreement’s long-term goals.
  • Transparency.  While the Agreement does not impose penalties on countries that fail to meet their emissions targets, it aims to encourage accountability through transparent reporting of efforts and progress.  Article 13 of the Agreement establishes a transparency framework that requires countries regularly to provide information related to anthropogenic emissions, climate change impacts, and adaptation, while Article 15 creates an expert-based committee to facilitate implementation of and compliance with the Agreement.
  • Financing.  Article 9 of the Paris Agreement requires developed countries to provide financial resources to assist developing countries with mitigation and adaptation, and encourages other countries to do so voluntarily.  Although the preamble to the Agreement refers to the goal of at least $100 billion in financial support from developed countries, this figure is not a legally binding financial commitment.
  • Loss and Damage.  The Agreement recognizes the importance of avoiding and addressing loss and damage associated with climate change; however, in Article 8 and the preamble, it specifically does not provide any basis for liability or compensation for climate-change related loss or damage.

The Paris Agreement embodies a global commitment to addressing climate change, but leaves much to the discretion of the parties.  Specifically, the Agreement lacks definite and binding emissions reduction targets, allowing parties to set their own targets.  Nonetheless, the Paris Agreement lays the groundwork for international action to address climate change.

The Agreement will not be binding on parties until at least 55 parties to the Convention, accounting for at least 55% of total GHG emissions, ratify the Agreement by depositing their instrument of ratification or acceptance with the Secretary-General of the United Nations (Article 21).  For the U.S. in particular, it appears unlikely that the ratification of the Agreement will require Senate approval because the Agreement does not obligate the U.S. to make specific emissions cuts or contribute particular funds.

The Agreement will be opened for signature April 22, 2016 through April 21, 2017, and will be open for ratification by the parties from April 22, 2017 onward (Article 20).

This post was written by guest authors Amber Martin and Jeff Bayne. 

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