Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) shakes hands with Barack Obama. Xi Jinping, President of the People's Republic of China, looks on.
China and United states formally join Paris Agreement. 3 September 2016.

The Paris Agreement

At COP 21 in Paris, Parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. The Paris Agreement brings for the first time all nations into taking actions to combat climate change and adapt to its effect, with enhanced support to assist developing countries.

Status of the Agreement

On 5 October 2016, 79 Parties of the 197 Parties to the Convention had ratifies the Paris Agreement. The Agreement came into force on 4 November 2016, thirty days after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Conventions accounting in total for at least an estimated 55% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions had ratified the Agreement. You can find more information about the status of the ratifications on the UNFCCC website.

Essential elements of the Agreement

The central aims of the Agreement are:

• to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5°C.

• to strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.

To reach these aims, the following mechanisms will be put in place:

• Appropriate financial flows, • a new technology framework and • an enhanced capacity building framework

Nationally Determined Contributions

The Paris Agreement requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) – national climate action plans - and to strengthen these efforts in the years ahead. This includes requirements that all Parties report regularly on their emissions and on their implementation efforts. There will also be a global stocktake every five years to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the agreement and to inform further individual actions by Parties.

The Intended Nationally Determined Contributions represent a major step forward in efforts to address climate change and presents some challenges and opportunities relating to keeping temperature rise below 2°C.

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Figure 2: Comparison of global emission levels in 2025 and 2030 resulting from the implementation of the intended nationally determined contributions and under other scenarios. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report scenario database, 1.5 °C scenarios from scientific literature, IPCC historical emission database and intended nationally determined contribution quantification. Abbreviations: AR4 = Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, GWP = global warming potential, INDC = intended nationally determined contribution, IPCC AR5=Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, n = number of scenarios, yr = year

The estimated aggregate annual global emission levels resulting from the implementation of the INDCs do not fall within the scope of least - cost 2°C scenarios by 2025 and 2030 (see Figure 2). However, by lowering emissions below pre-INDC trajectories, the INDCs contribute to lowering the expected temperature levels until 2100 and beyond. Such temperature levels strongly depend on assumptions of socioeconomic drivers, technology development and actions undertaken by Parties beyond the time frames stated in their INDCs (eg beyond 2025 and 2030).


Further optional reading:

There is lots of information on the UNFCCC website including an overview of the United Nations climate change regime, information on the Paris Agreement. For more information of the effect of the intended nationally determined contributions, you may like to read the Synthesis report on the aggregate effect on intended nationally determined contributions. and Aggregate effect of the intended nationally determined contributions: an update.

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This article is from the free online course:

Our Changing Climate: Past, Present and Future

University of Reading