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A Summary of the Paris Agreement; By Sundeep Kumar. S

C3S Article no: 0054/2017

In light of the U.S withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change, China, a party to the agreement, has become the default global leader for action on greenhouse gas emissions and combating climate change. This is the first time China has been pushed to the driver’s seat of a Western-style rules-based system on an important global issue such as climate change. To understand the responsibilities of nations party to the agreement, it is necessary to understand the provisions of the agreement. The actual text of the entire agreement can be found here.

The Paris Agreement on climate change is an international legal document which contains 29 articles framed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the parties to the agreement. The agreement has both binding and non-binding components. It was adopted in December 2015 at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Paris. It currently has 195 countries who are signatory members and 148 out of it who have ratified.

It lays down the basic framework within which nations, organisations and institutions working on issues relating to climate change and reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions can operate with. It sets certain principles and specific objectives with timelines that have to be followed and achieved while functioning around climate change related issues.

Basic Principles:

  1. Follow the principle of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances

  2. Recognise the specific needs of developing countries, especially that are vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change

  3. Access to finance, technology and transfer of technology for least developed parties to the agreement

  4. Recognise that parties maybe affected by not only climate change but also by measures taken in response

  5. Climate change actions, responses and impacts must provide equitable access to sustainable development and poverty eradication

  6. Must address issues relating to food security, hunger and vulnerabilities of food production systems

  7. Any action undertaken must be in line with the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  8. Climate justice – integrity of all ecosystems

  9. Education and awareness. Engagements of all levels of governments and various actors


The basic objective of the framework is to keep the global average temperature increase to below 2*C and limit it to 1.5*C above pre-industrial levels and to facilitate climate resilient development ensuring food security.  To achieve this, every nation that is party to the agreement must commit to a nationally determined contribution (NDC) which has a common timeline for implementation. Such NDCs can be adjusted for enhancement. All nations party to the agreement must reach global emission peaking as soon as possible. Parties should communicate and maintain successive NDC that is progressive.

There are clearly defined duties for developed and developing countries to accommodate the economic factor of individual countries in combating climate change. Developed nations must set an economy-wide emission reduction target and developing nations should work to achieve adaptation, mitigation and capacity building. Regional economic integration organisations (REIO) should define emission reduction targets with a timeline. This can be defined by individuals party to the REIO or collectively. Long term plans must be formulated by REIOs.

Parties to the agreement must incentivize actions, conserve and enhance greenhouse gas sinks and reservoirs including forests. The agreement provides space for voluntary NDCs but such commitments do not account for double counting, i.e. parties cannot claim internationally transferred mitigation outcomes towards their respective NDCs. The agreement calls for the parties to promote a holistic, integrated and balanced non-market approach to assist NDCs. It also calls for the promotion of public and private sector participation.

The parties to the agreement must establish a global goal for enhancing adaptive capacity. Such an approach must be country-driven, gender responsive, participatory and fully transparent. International cooperation for adaptive measures such as knowledge sharing, strengthening institutional arrangements and scientific knowledge by the parties. Parties must engage in adaptation planning process, formulate and implement national adaptation plans. An assessment of impact, monitoring and evaluation must be conducted.

Parties shall follow the Warsaw International Mechanism for loss and damage due to climate related issues. This includes warning systems, emergency response, risk assessment and insurance solutions.

The developed nations party to the agreement are obliged to provide financial resources to the developing parties for mitigation and adaptation. The developed economies must take the lead and ensure progressive climate finance beyond their respective previous efforts. The Financial Mechanism of the Convention is the body that will operate on all finance related affairs of the Conference.

Parties must cooperate for technological development and transfer of technology. The developed economies must engage in innovation and funding for technology development and transfers. A Subsidiary Body of the Conference for Science and Technology is set up to provide advice to the parties on related issues.

A country-driven approach is prescribed for capacity building that includes education, awareness and training. Transparent, timely and accurate communication of information is needed for issues relating to capacity-building. Countries must learn from lessons learned from past experiences and make institutional arrangements to develop capacity.

The transparency framework of the conference states that parties must be flexible, facilitative, non-intrusive, non-punitive, be respectful of national sovereignty and avoid placing undue burdens on parties. A system needs to be in place to ensure clarity and tracking of operations relating to the agreement. Parties must maintain a national inventory report of emissions and sources. Methodologies accepted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) must be adhered to. Developed nations must furnish information on support provided to developing nations. This includes financial support, transfer of technology and support for capacity-building measures. A review will be conducted by an expert to help identify capacity-building needs. Parties must adopt common procedures and guidelines.

A global stocktake must be conducted periodically. The next stocktake will be taken in 2023 and following that a stocktake will be done once every 5 years. Based on the stocktake reports, parties must revise their NDCs and other actions individually. A Subsidiary Body to the Conference for Implementation of the agreement is established by the Conference. The mechanism will follow the principles, procedures and modalities adopted by the Conference.

State members non-parties to the agreement, organs of the United Nations, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), civil-society members whose work relates to climate and environment issues shall participate in meetings as observers. However, only the parties to the agreement have the decision-making powers. Parties can establish subsidiary bodies to the Conference as needed.

The Agreement was open for signature and ratification by States and REIOs between 22nd April 2016 to 21st April 2017. Ratification instruments should be deposited to the Depositary who is the Secretary-General of the United Nations. REIOs with non-party members are bound to the agreement. REIOs whose members are parties to the agreement should decide on their responsibilities for fulfilling obligations. In such cases, parties who are members of the REIO are not entitled to the rights under the agreement concurrently.

The agreement comes in effect from the 30th day after the date on which at least 55 parties accounting for 55% of greenhouse gas emissions sign and submit the same to the depository. The agreement comes into effect for individual nations and REIOs from the 30th day after they sign and deposit their respective ratifications. REIOs are not additional to the member states in achieving emission targets, i.e. parties must commit to their respective NDCs even if they are members of REIOs with its own targets.

Each party has 1 vote. REIOs can vote the number of votes its members have. However, REIOs cannot vote if the members exercise their voting individually.

Parties can withdraw after 3 years from the time the party has enforced the agreement. Such withdrawal will be effective after 1 year of depositing the decision to withdraw.

All documents and reports relating to the articles of the agreement are to be submitted periodically to the respective bodies of the conference and to the depository. This is for the purpose of transparency, assessment and actions based on the assessment. A mutatis mutandis approach towards rules of procedures is followed by the Conference and its subsidiary bodies.

(Sundeep Kumar. S, Research Officer, Chennai Centre for China Studies (C3S). M Phil Scholar, International Relations, University of Madras. Views expressed by the author are his own and does not reflect C3S position.)

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