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Special Report: What is the Paris Climate Agreement?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Barack Obama signed the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, envisioning a future for youth where we don't have to worry about our future and climate change. The agreement seeks to create this future. This Special Report outlines the aims of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The United States will join a small community of countries that are not in the Paris Agreement. IMG source: Britannica

Donald Trump announced he would pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement (later referred to as the Agreement) during his presidential campaign, an act that will officially take place the day after the 2020 presidential elections, November 4, 2020. While that is the formal exit date, the U.S. is not actively meeting the goals of the Agreement so the U.S. is practically already out of the Agreement.

In his absence, thousands of leaders at lower levels of politics and in the private sector are taking is place as climate leaders. There has been an increase in initiative such as America's Pledge, We Are Still In, the United States Climate Alliance, and the American Cities Climate Challenge. Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City who recently announced a presidential run, is at the forefront of climate leaders and mayors; he started the American Cities Climate Challenge.

The Agreement requires member nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions over time. The goal is to substantially decrease global greenhouse gas emissions. Over time, the commitments increase. The Agreement also includes a way for developed nations to assist developing nations and provides a way to monitor and report on a nation's progress transparently.

A Brief History

The Agreement was drafted by the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework on Climate Change) Conference of Paris (COP21) in a matter of two weeks. The Agreement could not take affect until it was signed by 55 countries representing 55% of global emissions, which happened on October 5, 2016.

Protesters near COP21 in Paris in 2015. IMG credit: Associated Press

Countries in the Agreement

As of March 1, 2019, All 197 countries have adopted the Agreement and 185 – including the United States – have formally approved it. The infographic above shows the countries in the Agreement. Greenland not a country and therefore is not counted in these numbers, but interestingly it has not ratified nor signed the Agreement despite being on the forefront of climate effects. Russia, Turkey, and Iran are the major emitting countries that have not formally ratified the Agreement.

Presidential leaders standing together. IMG source:

Aims of the Agreement

The Paris Climate Agreement is a vast proposal that has three main goals: limiting temperature rise through greenhouse gas reduction, providing a framework for transparency, accountability, and the achievement of future targets, and mobilizing support in developing countries for climate change mitigation and adaption.

Limiting Temperature Rise Through Greenhouse Gas Reduction

The Agreement calls for keeping global temperature rise under 1.5 degrees Celsius. To do this, the Agreement requires countries to be carbon neutral by 2050. 186 countries submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), which are climate reduction targets. This included national and local goals. Now, INDCs are Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The United States committed to a 26 to 28 percent reduction in 2005 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025, with initiative including the Clean Power Plan and the tightening of automotive fuel economy standards. Both of these policies the Trump Administration has either repealed or lessened.

A Scotland natural gas processing plant. IMG source:

Create A Framework for Transparency, Accountability, and the Achievement of Future Targets

Part of the Agreement is a mandatory framework for public reporting of target progress. This allows outside experts to evaluate the nation's progress. The framework also provides requirements for developed countries to allocate how much funds they will provide to developing countries. There are no financial penalties; instead, the framework relies on global peer pressure and possible political retribution in other areas.

Mobilizing Support for the Mitigation and Adaption of Developing Countries

Developing countries have often contributed the least to climate change will be affected the most by it. Part of the framework mentioned is financial aid for these countries. The 2009 Copenhagen Accord aimed to increase public and private sector investment in combating the effects of climate change on developing countries to $100 million. The Paris Climate Agreement aims to build on this goal with a more ambitious goal by 2025.

Solar array in a developing country. Image source: United Nations


An excerpt from President Barack Obama's speech on the day the Paris Climate Agreement was signed:

"Now, the Paris Agreement alone will not solve the climate crisis.  Even if we meet every target embodied in the agreement, we’ll only get to part of where we need to go.  But make no mistake, this agreement will help delay or avoid some of the worst consequences of climate change.  It will help other nations ratchet down their dangerous carbon emissions over time, and set bolder targets as technology advances, all under a strong system of transparency that allows each nation to evaluate the progress of all other nations.  And by sending a signal that this is going to be our future -- a clean energy future -- it opens up the floodgates for businesses, and scientists, and engineers to unleash high-tech, low-carbon investment and innovation at a scale that we’ve never seen before.  So this gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got."


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