On December 12, 2015, 195 countries adopted the first global agreement addressing climate change. The Paris Agreement was adopted following two weeks of negotiations during the 21st Conference of the Parties ("COP21") to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change ("UNFCCC"). The Agreement marks the first time that developed and developing countries have joined together to address what the Parties consider "an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to human societies."i
The Agreement's goals are lofty. First, the Agreement seeks to limit the increase of the global average temperature to well below 2°C over pre-industrial levels.ii The Parties also committed to "pursue efforts" to limit warming to only 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.iii Second, each Party aims to reach peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.iv Finally, the Agreement endeavors to reach "net zero" emissions by 2050, taking into account the balance of anthropogenic emissions by sources and greenhouse gas removals by sinks, such as forests.v
Substance of the Agreement
Under the Paris Agreement, each individual country will submit an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution ("INDC"), or an emissions pledge it intends to achieve based on its analysis of what is feasible. INDCs are not legally binding, and there are no penalties for a country that fails to meet its pledged emissions target. INDCs are supposed to represent a country's "highest possible ambition, reflecting its common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances."vi The INDCs will be communicated by each Party through a submission portal and will be published online by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
One hundred and eighty countries have already submitted INDCs for the first cycle beginning in 2020. Developed countries will undertake absolute emissions reduction targets, while developing countries are encouraged to move to absolute targets over time. Since these pledges are currently not enough to keep warming below 2°C, the Agreement establishes a ratcheting mechanism where each country must review its pledge every five years, starting in 2020, to determine if it can achieve a more stringent emissions pledge. While countries will not be required to state a new goal, there will be pressure to submit a new, more stringent emissions pledge. The ratcheting mechanism was a point of contention because large, developing countries did not want a system that would pressure them to establish more stringent emissions targets within the next decade. The United States was a proponent of the ratcheting mechanism and argued that as a nation starts down the path of reducing carbon emissions and expanding renewable energy, the process becomes easier and nations can reach targets more quickly than expected.
The Agreement also creates a "stocktake" event that will first occur in 2023 and every five years thereafter. At this meeting, the parties to the Agreement will assess collective progress toward the Agreement's long-term goals. The stocktake will help determine whether the world needs to do more to address climate change. At these meetings, attendees should consider "mitigation, adaptation, and the means of implementation and support."vii The dialogue and outcomes from these stocktake meetings will then help inform countries as they review their pledges every five years under the ratcheting mechanism. While the first stocktake is not until 2023, the Agreement calls for a "facilitative dialogue" to convene in 2018 to assess progress...