The ‘Signaling’ Effect of the Paris Agreement

Multilateral agreements generally pertain to the actions of national governments. The Paris Agreement, for instance, sets collective goals and spells out the obligations of the national governments that join it – the most important being the development and implementation of their “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs). However, unlike most other multilateral agreements, the influence of the Paris Agreement extends well beyond the purview of national governments. Across societies, a wide range of other actors – state and local authorities, companies, workers, faith organizations, educational and cultural institutions, and others – are internalizing the goals of the Paris Agreement and orienting their actions accordingly. This proliferation of bottom-up, Paris-aligned action helps achieve, and strengthen, countries’ NDCs. In the United States, it has maintained momentum toward the Paris goals even as the Trump administration was withdrawing from the agreement. Over time, this indirect “signaling” effect of the Paris Agreement may be as decisive as its direct influence on national governments in catalyzing an ambitious global response. This brief highlights a broad range of climate actions across many spheres of society inspired by the Paris Agreement.