The Paris Agreement: A New Framework for Global Climate Action

Written by | Wednesday, March 9th, 2016
European Values

Gregor Erbach (European Parliamentary Research Service)

Climate change caused by human activities began to be addressed at the global level only relatively recently. In 1989, the United Nations established an intergovernmental panel whose task was to assess the scientific knowledge on the human impact on the climate. It turned out that in order to prevent irreversible changes to the environment, internationally coordinated efforts would have to be made. On this basis, several agreements have been gradually introduced, of which the best known is the Kyoto Protocol, as one of the agreements that draws on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The signatories to the Kyoto Protocol gathered in French capital city at the end of the last year where they signed the Paris Agreement as a follow-up deal to Kyoto Protocol.

The aim of the Paris Agreement is to ensure that global temperature will not exceed its pre-industrial values by more than 2°C and that countries will try to keep this increase even half a degree lower. At the same time, the agreement should ensure that global emissions of greenhouse gases would start declining as soon as possible. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which is binding only for advanced countries, the Paris Agreement will apply also to the developing ones. All states are obliged to come up with their own plans, which will contribute to climate protection, and take steps to fulfill these while also regularly reporting on their progress. The plans are to be reviewed every five years, which will allow individual countries to gradually adopt more ambitious measures. The wealthier countries will contribute to the less developed ones so that their economic growth is not overly slowed down due to environmental measures.

The immediate reaction to the finalization of the Paris agreement is generally positive. It is considered a sensible and pragmatic step in the right direction, providing a broad framework for action, which is necessary to make progress in combating climate change. Some scientists, however, criticize the deal because, according to them, it contains only empty promises without specific safeguards and since it was actually finalized too late. We need to note here that the agreement effectively avoids any quantification of the emission reduction targets or even financial contributions, and it also does not contain any enforcement mechanism or penalties. Some parts of the Paris Agreement are not even binding, which is, among other factors, due the fact that the US had made it clear that it would not sign any deal that would legally bind countries to reduce emissions.

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