Last Updated on December 15, 2021 by Alina Zárate
Over the past few years, we have heard a lot about the Paris Climate Agreement, from the adoption of it to the United States’ decision to withdraw from the Agreement and the most recent news about the United States’ decision to rejoin the Agreement. The United States’ complicated history with this treaty has not helped clarify for the general public what it is and what it aims to accomplish. That is why I thought that I would take the time to answer some basic questions about what the Paris Climate Agreement is and what it aims to do.
What is the Paris Climate Agreement and who is part of it?
The Paris Agreement on Climate Change, also known as the Paris Climate Agreement, is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. The treaty was drafted in December 2015 and has been adopted by 197 Parties since 2016. This means that nearly every country on Earth is participating.
Why was it created?
The Paris Climate Agreement was created to address the issue of climate change on a global scale. The treaty’s express goal is to limit global warming to below 2℃ (this is about 3.6℉), ideally 1.5℃ (about 2.7℉) compared to pre-industrial levels. To do this, all parties that adopted the Agreement must work to reduce their reliance on greenhouse gas emissions and aim to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.
How does it work?
The implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement serves to promote economic and social transformation to create a healthier planet. It works on a 5-year rolling cycle. This means that every five years, countries submit plans for increasingly ambitious initiatives to reduce their climate impact. These plans include not only the actions a country will take to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, but also the actions that they will take to mitigate the effects of climate change that we are already experiencing.
Additionally, the treaty also outlines plans for international collaboration toward global climate goals. The foundation of this collaboration is based on the capacity of each country to implement and support other Parties in their climate goals. Therefore, developed countries are encouraged to support developing countries financially and technologically in order to build up the climate capacity of all members of the Climate Agreement.
How are members held accountable?
Accountability is one of the most appealing and also one of the most heavily criticized aspects of the Agreement. While it was a landmark piece of international legislation, the reality is that it is limited in the scope of its influence. In other words, while the treaty seeks to implement ambitious climate actions on a global scale, it does not have the power to hold member parties to a global standard. The goal is to limit a rise in global temperatures to 2℃ but each member party gets to create its own climate plan, implement its own climate measures, and self-assess its progress towards achieving carbon neutrality. While this system gives each party the freedom to formulate a climate plan based on its own specific climate situation, it does not enforce drastic climate mitigation measures and struggles to hold members accountable to their proposed climate plans. Therefore, many people are concerned that the Paris Climate Agreement will not be successful in addressing the threats of climate change or reaching its goal.
How does the Agreement impact us?
The Paris Climate Agreement is still in its beginning stages and, therefore, its impacts may not be particularly visible in your everyday life. However, changes are occurring that are likely having an impact on your community. For example, your energy provider may be transitioning to more renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. Your community may be creating more bike lanes, converting its public transportation system to all-electric vehicles or redesigning public parks with native drought-resistant plants. You will likely also witness other initiatives due to the Agreement during your time abroad as all AIFS program locations are located in member countries.
If you are interested in learning more about the Paris Climate Agreement, check out the following resources:
- Adoption of the Paris Agreement
- The United Nations: Paris Climate Agreement
- The Paris Climate Agreement: What’s Next and How We Can Meet Our Climate Goals