On December 12, 2015, countries of the world adopted the Paris Agreement, taking an important step forward together to fight climate change. The Agreement creates a long-term framework for all countries to make concrete progress in accelerating action on climate change. It includes provisions on greenhouse gas emissions targets, adaptation, reporting and review, technology, capacity building, and climate finance, among other things. The Paris Agreement reflects a truly global effort and sends a strong market signal to businesses and the private sector that we are moving to a clean energy economy.
How will the Paris Agreement catalyze action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Are the targets countries have put forward enough?
The Paris Agreement lays out a global goal of limiting temperature increase to "well below" 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, while also aiming to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. In the first round of submissions, countries have set out targets that represent an important step toward the achievement of this goal, but they are not sufficient. That's why it is so important that the Paris Agreement includes mechanisms to promote greater ambition over time. It does this in a number of ways.
The Paris Agreement:
- Sets a mitigation goal of peaking global emissions as soon as possible and reducing emissions rapidly thereafter to achieve a balance between emissions and removals in the second half of the century;
- Calls for assessing progress on global mitigation action using the best available science every 5 years;
- Requires Parties to communicate emissions targets every 5 years, and requires these targets to be submitted well in advance of when they are finalized, to allow time for clarification;
- Sets the expectation that each Party's next emissions target is more ambitious than their previous one.
How will we know if Parties are meeting their commitments?
The Paris Agreement establishes a strong transparency and review system to build trust and confidence. The system is designed keep track of progress within each country and collectively. It will include robust requirements for greenhouse gas inventories, and for reporting on progress both in implementing and achieving targets.
Is the Paris Agreement legally binding?
The Agreement contains some legally binding provisions, such as the transparency provisions, and some non-legally binding provisions, such as the emissions targets themselves.
Does the Paris Agreement apply to all countries?
The Agreement adopts a modern approach to differentiation. Its provisions generally apply to all Parties, such as setting out targets, updating targets, and submitting information necessary to track progress. At the same time, different national circumstances are recognized. For example, mitigation targets are "nationally determined" by each Party, which allows each Party to put forward an emissions target that takes account of its own circumstances and capabilities. The transparency system applies to all Parties but allows some flexibility to those Parties that need it in light of their capacity.
So what’s next?
With a global framework now in place, implementation will be key.
At the international level, that includes developing additional, more detailed rules and guidelines to carry out the Paris Agreement. At the domestic level, governments and actors around the world need to accelerate the adoption and implementation of policies necessary to create low-carbon societies. The United States has already shown leadership in adopting low carbon policies in the energy, transport, and other sectors over the last few years to help advance this transformation.
Another critical piece to this global transformation is climate finance. Tackling climate change will require shifting global investment flows towards clean energy, forest protection, and climate-resilient infrastructure. The Paris Agreement ensures that developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable, will have support from the global community as they pursue clean and resilient growth.
Innovation will also be critical to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. This is why, on the first day of the Paris Conference, President Obama joined other world leaders to launch Mission Innovation, a landmark commitment by 20 countries and 28 major investors to accelerate public and private global clean energy innovation, to dramatically expand the new technologies that will define a clean, affordable, and reliable global power mix.
There is more work to be done, but this agreement marks an important turning point in the fight against climate change. Implementing our targets and increasing ambition over time will be critical to leaving the planet in better shape for current and future generations.
About the Author: Clare Sierawski serves as the Chief of Staff for the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change at the State Department.
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