international climate agreement

The Paris Agreement

Negotiators gather for COP 21 in Paris, December 2015. Image courtesy of the UNFCCC, via Flickr.

The Paris Agreement strengthens the global climate effort by requiring all countries to set climate goals and by establishing new mechanisms to hold countries accountable and to build ambition over time.

The agreement was reached in December 2015 and entered into force 11 months later.  In June 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement.

A Paris Primer
C2ES answers questions on the talks leading to the Paris climate accord, how the agreement works, key legal issues, the agreement’s status, and next steps.

Summary of the Paris Agreement
A closer look at the core elements, including commitments on emissions, adaptation, finance and transparency, and steps to promote carbon trading.

C2ES Statement on Paris
U.S. leadership and a groundswell of support from mayors, governors and CEOs helped deliver the landmark agreement. 

C2ES Statement on U.S. Withdrawal
The decision to withdraw ignores the many U.S. business leaders – and the strong majority of Americans – who want the United States to stay in the Paris Agreement. 

Business Support for Paris
Leading U.S. companies organized by C2ES signed a letter to President Trump and full-page ads in major newspapers urging him to keep the United States in the agreement.

Toward 2015 Dialogue
C2ES brought together top negotiators from two dozen countries for a series of in-depth discussions that forged common ground on key issues for Paris.

COP 21 Initiatives
A sampling of the many initiatives launched at the Paris Climate Conference by companies, city, state and local governments, and other non-state actors.

Additional Resources:

C2ES Policy Briefs:

Video:
Elliot Diringer briefs the Business Roundtable and members of the C2ES Business Environmental Leadership Council on the Paris Agreement

Paris Climate Agreement Q&A

Paris Climate Agreement Q&A

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More than 190 nations meeting in Paris in December 2015 reached a landmark agreement to strengthen the global climate effort. The Paris Agreement commits countries to undertake “nationally determined contributions” and establishes mechanisms to hold them accountable and to strengthen ambition in the years ahead.

C2ES offers a summary of the key outcomes in Paris and other resources related to the climate talks. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.

What’s the status of the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement formally entered into force on November 4, 2016. Other countries have continued to become parties to the Paris Agreement as they complete their domestic approval procedures.  As of June 2017, 148 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement. Countries are now negotiating more detailed rules to implement the agreement, to be adopted in late 2018.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the agreement. In response, other governments strongly reaffirmed their commitment to the agreement.

What were the main outcomes of the Paris conference?

The Paris conference was the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), known as COP 21. The conference concluded a round of negotiations launched in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 with the aim of producing a new legal agreement among national governments to strengthen the global response to climate change. A record 150 heads of state and government attended the opening day of the conference.

The Paris package had three main components: the Paris Agreement, an international treaty setting common goals, commitments and expectations; the intended “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) submitted by more than 180 countries; and the thousands of contributions offered by companies, states, cities and civil society organizations.

How does the Paris Agreement relate to the UNFCCC?

The UNFCCC, adopted in 1992, is a treaty among governments that provides a foundation for the global climate effort. Enjoying near-universal membership, the convention was ratified by the United States with the advice and consent of the Senate. The convention set a long-term objective (avoiding “dangerous human interference with the climate system”), established principles to guide the global effort, and committed all countries to “mitigate” climate change by reducing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions. The Paris Agreement defines how countries will implement their UNFCCC commitments after 2020.

What are nationally determined contributions?

In 2013, at COP 19 in Warsaw, parties were encouraged to submit their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to the Paris Agreement well in advance of COP 21. These INDCs represent each country’s self-defined mitigation goals for the period beginning in 2020. To date, 190 countries accounting for almost 99 percent of global emissions have submitted INDCs to the UNFCCC secretariat.

Developed countries have offered absolute economy-wide emissions targets (the United States, for instance, has pledged to reduce its emissions 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025).

Developing countries have offered a range of approaches, including absolute economy-wide targets, reductions in emissions intensity (emissions per unit of GDP), reductions from projected “business-as-usual” emissions, and reductions in per-capita emissions. C2ES has produced a summary of countries’ INDCs.

Final NDCs are submitted by each party upon its formal ratification or acceptance of the agreement, and are recorded in a UNFCCC registry.

What obligations do countries have under the agreement to reduce their emissions?

The Paris Agreement establishes a set of binding procedural commitments. Parties commit to “prepare, communicate and maintain” successive NDCs; to “pursue domestic mitigation measures” aimed at achieving their NDCs; and to regularly report on their emissions and on progress in implementing their NDCs. The agreement also sets the expectation that each party’s successive NDC will “represent a progression” beyond its previous one and “reflect its highest possible ambition.”  The achievement by a party of its NDCs is not a legally binding obligation.

Does the agreement meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius?

In agreements adopted in Copenhagen in 2009 and Cancún in 2010, governments set a goal of keeping global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The Paris Agreement reaffirms the 2-degree goal, while urging efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The agreement also sets two other long-term mitigation goals: first, a peaking of emissions as soon as possible (recognizing that it will take longer for developing countries); then, a goal of net greenhouse gas neutrality (“a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks”) in the second half of the century.

Analyses of the INDCs submitted by countries conclude that, while they move us closer to the 2-

degree goal, they are not ambitious enough to achieve it. An analysis by the Climate Action Tracker, a consortium of research institutions, concluded that the INDCs, if fully implemented, could result in warming of 2.7 degrees Celsius, which would be 0.9 degrees lower than without them.

How will the Paris Agreement get countries to increase their ambition?

The Paris Agreement provides a durable framework guiding the global effort for decades to come. The aim is to create a continuous cycle that keeps the pressure on countries to raise their ambition over time. To promote rising ambition, the agreement establishes two linked processes, each on a five-year cycle. The first process is a “global stocktake” to assess collective progress toward meeting the agreement’s long-term goals. Parties will then submit new NDCs, “informed by the outcomes of the global stocktake.”

Because the Paris Agreement is to apply post-2020, the first formal stocktake under the agreement will not take place until 2023. But under a decision accompanying the agreement, parties will jumpstart the five-year cycle with a “facilitative dialogue” on collective progress in 2018, and the submission by 2020 of NDCs running through 2030.

How will parties be held accountable?

Accountability will be achieved primarily through an “enhanced transparency framework.” All countries are required to submit emissions inventories and the “information necessary to track progress made in implementing and achieving” their NDCs. These reports will be subject to an independent review by technical experts and a “facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress” by fellow governments.

Unlike the current transparency system under the UNFCCC, which sets different requirements for developed and developing countries, the new transparency framework will apply to all countries but provide “built-in flexibility” to accommodate varying national capacities. The aim is for all parties to work toward the same standards of accountability as their capacities strengthen over time.

In addition, the agreement establishes a new mechanism to “facilitate implementation and promote compliance.” This “non-adversarial” committee of experts will seek to help countries falling behind on their commitments get back on track. There are no penalties for noncompliance.

How does the agreement address climate adaptation?

Adaptation—steps to cope with the impacts of climate change—receives much greater emphasis under the Paris Agreement than previously under the UNFCCC. Just as parties will submit mitigation contributions, the agreement requires all parties, “as appropriate,” to plan and implement adaptation efforts and encourages all parties to report on their adaptation efforts and/or needs. The agreement also includes a review of adaptation progress, and the adequacy and effectiveness of adaptation support, in the global stocktake to be undertaken every five years.

What does the Paris outcome do to support the efforts of developing countries?

Developed countries committed under the UNFCCC to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. As part of the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements, developed countries committed to mobilize $100 billion a year in public and private finance for developing countries by 2020.

The Paris Agreement reaffirms developed countries’ UNFCCC obligations; the COP decision accompanying the agreement extends the $100 billion-a-year goal through 2025, and calls for a new goal beyond that “from a floor of” $100 billion a year. The agreement also broadens the donor base beyond developed countries by encouraging other countries to provide support “voluntarily.” China, for instance, recently pledged $3 billion to help other developing countries.

Many national governments offered new financial pledges in Paris. Collectively, developed countries pledged $19 billion to help developing countries, including an announcement by Secretary of State John Kerry that, by 2020, the United States will double its support for adaptation efforts to $800 million a year. In another sign that developing countries are now also providing support, Vietnam pledged $1 million to the new Green Climate Fund (GCF). And for the first time, subnational governments also offered pledges, including 1 million euros from the city of Paris for the GCF, and CAD 6 million from Quebec for the UNFCCC Least Developed Countries Fund. As of April 2017, $10.3 billion has been pledged to the Green Climate Fund from 43 governments.

Does the Paris Agreement address carbon markets?

Many countries indicated in their INDCs that they intend to use some form of international emissions trading to implementing their contributions. To ensure the environmental integrity of such transactions, the agreement requires parties to follow accounting practices avoiding the double counting of “internationally transferred mitigation outcomes.” In addition, the agreement establishes a new mechanism contributing to mitigation and supporting sustainable development, which, depending on its design, could generate or certify tradable emission units.

How did the Paris conference engage stakeholders such as states, cities and business?

Although only national governments participate directly in the negotiations, COP 21 provided many opportunities to showcase the contributions of “non-state actors” to the global climate effort. The strong display of commitments by cities, subnational governments and businesses at the New York Climate Summit in September 2014 led to the establishment at COP 20 of the Lima-Paris Action Agenda and the online NAZCA portal, where non-state actors can register their commitments. By the time of Paris, the portal listed nearly 11,000 commitments from 2,250 cities, 22,025 companies, and hundreds of states/regions, investors and civil society organizations. The unprecedented showing of action and support from all levels of society was widely credited as an important factor in Paris’ success. Governments and stakeholder groups are working to strengthen non-state contributions to the UNFCCC.

A C2ES brief outlines recent steps to strengthen the visibility of non-state action in the UNFCCC and options for more closely linking the two.

Is the agreement legally binding?

Yes. The agreement is considered a “treaty” under international law, but only certain provisions are legally binding. The issue of which provisions to make binding was a central concern for many countries, in particular the United States, which wanted an agreement the president could accept without seeking congressional approval. Meeting that test precluded binding emission targets and new binding financial commitments. The agreement, however, includes binding procedural commitments – such as the requirements to maintain successive NDCs and to report on progress in implementing them.

Did Congress have any say over the agreement?

Under U.S. law, a president may under certain circumstances approve U.S. participation in an international agreement without submitting it to Congress. Important considerations include whether the new agreement is implementing a prior agreement such as the UNFCCC that was ratified with the advice and consent of the Senate, and whether it is consistent with, and can be implemented on the basis of, existing U.S. law. Because the agreement does not include binding emission targets, or binding financial commitments beyond those contained in the UNFCCC, and can be implemented on the basis of existing law, President Obama chose to approve it by executive action.

A C2ES legal analysis examines issues surrounding U.S. acceptance of the Paris Agreement.

Can the president withdraw the United States from the agreement?

Under U.S. law, U.S. participation in an international agreement can be terminated by a president, acting on executive authority, or by an act of Congress, regardless of how the United States joined the agreement. The Paris Agreement specifies that a party may not withdraw from the agreement within the first three years following its entry into force.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would be withdrawing from the agreement, but also indicated a willingness to renegotiate the agreement or negotiate a new one. Other countries, reaffirming their strong support for the Paris Agreement, said they are not open to a new negotiation.

Can a party adjust its nationally determined contribution?

The Paris Agreement says that a party “may at any time adjust its existing nationally determined contribution with a view to enhancing its level of ambition.” While this does not appear to legally preclude a party from reducing the ambition of its NDC, such a step would be seen by most countries as deviating from the spirit of the Paris Agreement. An adjustment of the U.S. NDC could be seen as a way to ‘renegotiate’ the agreement.

What happens next?

As other countries continue to complete domestic procedures to formally accept the Paris Agreement, all parties are also expected to continue moving forward with the domestic policies needed to implement their nationally determined contributions. At the same time, governments are negotiating the details of how the Paris Agreement will be implemented – for instance, accounting rules and accountability procedures. These decisions are likely to be finalized in late 2018.

COP 22, which took place in Marrakech, Morocco, in November 2016, marked the first meeting of the Paris Agreement’s governing body, known as the CMA. This initial session of the CMA is currently suspended to allow parties more time to complete the decisions needed to fully implement the agreement. The next major UNFCCC conference is COP 23, which will take place in Bonn, Germany, in November 2017.

The enduring power of US-China climate leadership

US-China FlagsIt would have been hard to imagine just a few short years ago that the United States and China would – together – be the ones driving a stronger global response to climate change.

For years, each claimed inaction by the other as an excuse for not doing more. But with their simultaneous acceptance today of the Paris Agreement, the world’s two largest economies and emitters committed themselves to a low-carbon future, and solidified a new global framework that will keep pressure on all countries to keep doing more.

The precise mix of motivations varies between the two. But fundamentally, the heads of both the United States and China have assessed the risks and opportunities presented by climate change, and they have decided it is in their nations’ interests – and is their responsibility as global leaders – to do more.

How faithfully the two countries now follow through on their commitments will depend in part on a host of shifting political and economic currents, and who assumes the reins in the years ahead.

But with their leadership up to and since last year’s Paris conference, the United States and China have helped establish new mechanisms and unleash new energies that ensure a staying power beyond the comings and goings of individual governments.

With the Paris Agreement, countries have applied the lessons of a quarter-century of fitful climate diplomacy to create a new framework that offers the best hope ever of an effective international response.

The agreement binds countries to a set of processes requiring them to: tell the world how they’re going to fight climate change; report regularly on how well they’re doing; undergo review by experts and by other countries; and, every five years, say what they’ll do next.

It is, in essence, institutionalized peer (and public) pressure. And if it works as designed, the agreement will over time strengthen confidence that countries are doing their fair share, making it easier for all to do more.

Beyond the agreement itself, and the role of national governments, Paris also will keep nurturing stronger action through its powerful “signaling” effect. For many mayors, governors, CEOs and other real-world decision makers, Paris was a catalytic moment, and its signals continue to resound.

From Warren Buffett, who cited Paris in his annual letter to shareholders as further impetus for Berkshire Hathaway’s multibillion-dollar investments in renewable power, to Moody’s, which is now taking countries’ Paris pledges into account in rating future investments, mainstream business is internalizing the Paris goals.

Mayors, too, are reading Paris as a cue for stronger action. In a new Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy, more than 7,000 mayors in 119 countries pledged to set climate goals beyond those of their national governments. C2ES recently joined with The U.S. Conference of Mayors to form the Alliance for a Sustainable Future, bringing mayors and business leaders together to forge collaborative approaches to cutting emissions.

In the long run, this activation of mayors, CEOs and other “non-state actors” could prove as decisive as the actions of national governments in determining the success of Paris.

No one moment and no one agreement can ensure the long-term transformation needed to keep climate change in check. But today’s U.S.-China announcement is the latest in a series of breakthrough moments that could mean the difference between a successful low-carbon transition and a future of climate calamity.

 

 

 

Paris climate talks: This could be the start of something big

As negotiators in Paris put the finishing touches on a new global climate accord, it’s worth reflecting on how much the summit has already accomplished.

One event or agreement by itself can’t completely reverse the climate problem. But like other important moments in history, such as the drive to land on the moon in 1969, Paris can inspire innovations across society.The U.S. space program would not have been possible without technologies that still benefit us today like scratch-resistant lenses, computer microchips, smoke detectors and solar panels. Nearly half a century later, many businesses, cities, states and nations are taking new, bold steps to reduce emissions and move toward a clean energy economy.

Whether it’s paving the way for rapid, wide-scale development of renewables, investing in energy efficiency technology and lower carbon electricity, or building resilience to climate impacts, a huge wave of innovation has already been unleashed.

Consider just some of the announcements made before and during the Paris talks:

  • Leaders of 20 countries announced they’ll seek to double investment in clean energy research and development over five years. Backing up this effort, called Mission Innovation, are more than two dozen investors led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates who have pledged to fund early-stage clean energy technology coming out of Mission Innovation.
  • India and France announced an international solar alliance to dramatically increase the reach of solar energy to more than 100 countries in the tropics.

In Brief: Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

In Brief: Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

May 2015

By Daniel Bodansky, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Download the full report (PDF)

U.S. acceptance of the new climate agreement being negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) may or may not require legislative approval, depending on its contents. U.S. law recognizes several routes for entering into international legal agreements. The president would be on relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force, without submitting it to the Senate or Congress for approval, to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC. On the other hand, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits or new legally binding financial commitments, this would weigh in favor of seeking Senate or congressional approval. However, the exact scope of the president’s legal authority to conclude international agreements is uncertain, and the president’s decision will likely rest also on political and prudential considerations.

The brief is based on the report, Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement, which provides a fuller legal analysis.

Daniel Bodansky
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Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

Legal Options for U.S. Acceptance of a New Climate Change Agreement

May 2015

By Daniel Bodansky, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, Arizona State University

Download the full report (PDF)

The success of ongoing negotiations to establish a new global climate change agreement depends heavily on the agreement’s acceptance by the world’s major economies, including the United States. The new agreement is being negotiated under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a treaty with 195 parties that was ratified by the United States in 1992 with the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. U.S. acceptance of the new agreement may or may not require legislative approval, depending on its specific contents.

U.S. law recognizes several routes for entering into international agreements. The most commonly known, under Article II of the Constitution, requires advice and consent by two-thirds of the Senate. In practice, however, the United States has accepted the vast majority of the international agreements to which it is a party through other procedures. These include congressional-executive agreements, which are approved by both houses of Congress, and presidential-executive agreements, which are approved solely by the president.

The President would be on relatively firm legal ground accepting a new climate agreement with legal force, without submitting it to the Senate or Congress for approval, to the extent it is procedurally oriented, could be implemented on the basis of existing law, and is aimed at implementing or elaborating the UNFCCC. On the other hand, if the new agreement establishes legally binding emissions limits or new legally binding financial commitments, this would weigh in favor of seeking Senate or congressional approval. However, the exact scope of the President’s legal authority to conclude international agreements is uncertain, and the President’s decision will likely rest also on political and prudential considerations.

Daniel Bodansky
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US climate target encourages others to put best foot forward

I recently wrote a piece for China Dialogue about the US announcement of its intended contribution to a new international climate agreement due this December in Paris. Here is that article:

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The US pushed strongly for getting climate targets on the table well ahead of this year’s Paris negotiation, arguing that exposing countries’ offerings to a bit of scrutiny would encourage them to “put their best foot forward.”  With the formal submission of its intended target, the Obama administration arguably has done just that.

The US contribution is, for the moment, only a declaration of intent. But by coming out early with the strongest target it believes it can muster, the White House has charted an ambitious course at home. And it is upping the pressure on China and other major economies to do the most that they can too.

The end result, hopefully, is a new agreement in Paris that not only pulls all these numbers together, but also holds countries accountable for their promises, and commits them to keep returning to the table in the years ahead to assess and strengthen their efforts.

Bob Perciasepe's statement on the U.S. target for an international climate agreement

Statement of Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

March 31, 2015

On the U.S. announcement of its intended contribution to a new international climate agreement due this December in Paris:

“The United States took a vital step today to strengthen climate action both here and abroad.

The U.S. target will drive investment at home in efficiency and clean energy, and leverage those investments to promote stronger action globally. By stepping up early with an ambitious contribution, the U.S. is encouraging other countries to do their fair share, too. If China and the other major economies come through, we have a good shot at a meaningful agreement in Paris.

It’s clear the Paris process is already catalyzing countries to set goals for all to see. But beyond a new set of national targets, the Paris agreement needs mechanisms holding countries accountable for their promises. And it should be built to last, regularly bringing countries back to the table to assess progress and keep strengthening their efforts.”

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Contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org or 703-516-0621

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

Outlook for Lima: Setting the stage for Paris

Negotiators heading to Lima for the annual U.N. climate summit face a certain paradox. There are encouraging signs of growing momentum toward a new global climate deal late next year in Paris. Yet over the next two weeks in Lima, the negotiators may make only modest progress at best.

There are good reasons to be hopeful.

First, recent events and announcements have strengthened confidence in prospects for Paris. These include the U.N. leaders summit in New York, nearly $10 billion in pledges to the new Green Climate Fund, Europe’s decision on a 2030 emissions goal, and the joint announcement by the U.S. and China of their post-2020 targets.

Second, the negotiations throughout this year have been notably civil and substantive. Wide gulfs remain, but rather than succumbing to procedural fights, parties have been putting forward and constructively debating concrete ideas for the Paris agreement.

Third, behind the scenes, there is a fair degree of convergence among key countries on the broad outlines of a Paris deal. This is reflected in a recent report from the co-chairs of Toward 2015, an informal dialogue among officials from 20+ key countries organized by C2ES.

Bob Perciasepe's statement on US-China climate announcement

Statement from Bob Perciasepe
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions

On the U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change

November 11, 2014

The joint announcement by President Obama and President Xi is an extremely hopeful sign. Even if the targets aren’t as ambitious as many might hope, the world’s two largest carbon emitters are stepping up together with serious commitments. This will help get other countries on board and greatly improves the odds for a solid global deal next year in Paris.

These targets will require major undertakings by both countries. Clearly the leaders of the world’s two largest economies have decided the risks posed by climate change justify stronger action to cut carbon emissions. And they’re confident they can keep growing their economies at the same time.

In the case of the United States, the new target is pushing the limits of what can be done under existing law. We can get there if Congress doesn’t stand in the way, and if states roll up their sleeves and work with businesses and other stakeholders to craft smart, practical plans to cut emissions from power plants. But to go much further, we’ll ultimately need Congress to act. 

For too long it’s been too easy for both the U.S. and China to hide behind one another.  People on both sides pointed to weak action abroad to delay action at home. This announcement hopefully puts those excuses behind us. We’ll only avert the worst risks of climate change by acting together.

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Contact: Laura Rehrmann, rehrmannl@c2es.org or 703-516-0621

About C2ES: The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) is an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization promoting strong policy and action to address the twin challenges of energy and climate change. Launched in 2011, C2ES is the successor to the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Learn more at www.c2es.org.

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