What is the Paris Climate Deal?

October 1, 2017

The United States is a powerhouse in the global sphere as well as in carbon emissions. The world’s carbon emissions have increased exponentially over the past ten years and the United States remains a dominant polluter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. The United States makes up about 2.2% of the world’s population (Census.gov) and releases over 17% of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (COTAP) When President Obama came into office in 2009, one of his major points on his campaign platform was climate reform. After many years in the making, President Obama helped the United States to became one of the primary nations to help create the Paris Climate deal which would allow for a better future for the generations to come.


After nine years in the making, the Paris Climate Deal was finalized in December of 2015 (NYT). The climate pact was signed by a total of 195 countries in order to take substantial measures to change the amount of carbon emissions per country. This deal commits each country to working towards lowering the greenhouse gas emissions. Though this deal will not fix global warming, it will however work towards cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half, and stalling the overall increase of the temperature of the earth by 2 degrees Celsius.


The Paris Climate Deal has been in the works for a long time; beginning at the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 all the way to the 2015 Paris United Nations Climate Change Conference. The Paris Agreement, is a globally recognized document that states how the developed world will be working towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and setting the standard for the developing world. The main goals of the Agreement are to lower the overall increase of the world’s atmosphere by only 2 degrees celsius as well as a “zero-net anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century” (NYT).


 The main goal of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system (UN).” 154 nations signed the UNFCCC stating that their governments would work to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. Some of the major countries that signed the UNFCCC were Australia (1992),  Great Britain (1992), the United Kingdom(1998), China (1998), Russia (1999), and the United States (1998). Three years later, ‘countries launched negotiations to strengthen the global response to climate change’ and adopted the Kyoto Protocol (UN). Much like the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol binds nations that sign to reduce their emissions. Though the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1995, it created two commitment periods for countries to sign onto; the first lasted through 2008-2012 and the second was 2013-2020.




The Kyoto Protocol encouraged developed countries to invest in technology and infrastructure in less developed countries where there were often significant opportunities to reduce emissions; this program was called Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) (Britannica). Under CDM, the investing country could claim the effective reduction in emissions as credit toward meeting the reductions that are outlined in the Protocol. The only countries that did not sign the Kyoto Protocol were: Afghanistan, Southern Sudan, Andorra, the Vatican City, Taiwan, and the US (TreeHugger).  Understandably, the Vatican City and Andorra are city states and considered themselves to be ‘observers’ of the process of the Kyoto Protocol. History shows us that South Sudan, at the time, was the world’s newest nation and its government had not gotten around to signing the climate accord in 1997.


Taiwan had been suffering from political unrest for many years and was technically not considered a country in 1997. Therefore, that left the United States and Afghanistan who did not sign the climate accord. Afghanistan was very busy fighting in inter and intra state wars at the time, but the United States is considered the biggest economy of the planet and decided to not sign a climate agreement that would help the world (TreeHuger). Before 2015, the three largest greenhouse gas emitting nations, China, the United States, and India were not bound by the Kyoto Protocol, but as of 2015, they were legally bound to limit and reduce their emissions due to the Paris Agreement.


As 2015 rolled around, the Paris Agreement was created as the last step of the UN Climate Change regime that will set a new course in the global effort to combat climate change. The two nations that are the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world are China and America happened to be some of the main policy makers in this agreement. Back in 2014, President Obama and China’s General Secretary Xi Jinping met to agree on limits they would make for their respective countries. Being the superpowers of the world, President Obama said, “We must lead by example” (NYT). Which is why the United States and China worked closely with creating the document and will work towards changing their own emissions rates to set an example for the rest of the world.

The Paris Climate Deal was created to help the world slow down the effects of climate change. The main points include: long term goals set by nations to keep from increasing the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere by 2 degrees celsius, as well as reducing or eliminating the use of fossil fuels.


Governments have agreed to meet together every five years to discuss changes and will keep one another informed on their efforts. They have also agreed to work to strengthen their societies’ abilities to deal with climate change. The governments acknowledge and are in need of cooperation to adhere to the losses that can happen due to climate change (European Commission). Climate change refers to global warming which is the overall increase in the warming of the planet and a broader range of changes that have been happening in the world. Climate change has happened because of the amounts of fossil fuels people have been burning for centuries. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) have accelerated the melting of the ice caps at the poles resulting in rising sea levels, ocean acidification due to the increase in carbon dioxide, and many more. The losses that can occur because of climate change are the threatening of ecosystems where animals reside, such as the bleaching of the coral reefs from the increased acidification of the oceans which results in many animals losing their homes. From the increase in oil production, from many oil spills, great and small, that are happening in our oceans threatens the homes of the animals there. Due to the increased temperatures around the world, there has been a decrease in precipitation allowing for many droughts to happen, some that have almost reached a decade. In America alone, the drought in California has threatened the production of almonds and avocados which is turn affects the economy.


With over 195 countries signing the agreement, this allows for many of those that are in the EU to be able to build a broad coalition of developed and developing countries along the same guidelines as the Paris Climate Deal. The EU was the first major economy to submit its intended contribution to the agreement and is already taking steps to reduce emissions by at least 40% by 2030 (European Commission). They, like China, will be working with a cap and trade system in Emissions Trade Systems (ETS). A cap and trade system is where “a cap is set on the total amount of certain greenhouse gases that can be emitted by installations covered by the system. The cap is essentially reduced over time so that the total emissions rates fall.” (European Commission.) Working with a cap and trade system, allows for a nation to see a concrete way to reduce emissions per year.


During early November of 2016, nations met in Morocco to sort out a variety of specific policies that individual nations will have to adopt to reduce emissions quickly (CSM). Though the amount of nations that have already signed onto the Paris agreement is remarkable, many have not ratified the agreement. “So the early ratifiers will likely wait until more nations are officially on board to start establishing the nuts and bolts for the international climate regime” (CSM) because then they will be able to see what other nations are going to do in order to cut emissions. At this summit, the United States will lay out a mid-century plan for decarbonizing the economy. With America setting a 2050 plan already, their goal is to entice other nations to set dates closer to the future, a deadline of sorts to help strengthen and review the progress that the nations are making. As far as developing nations go, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) created in 2009 in Copenhagen will be the center of discussions in Morocco.  The GCF “is a unique global initiative to respond to climate change by investing into low-emissions and climate-resilient development...to limit or reduce greenhouse gas emissions in developing countries, and to help adapt vulnerable societies to the unavoidable impacts of climate change.” (Green Climate Fund).


The Paris Climate deal is historic; a little less than a year after its conception has already been put into action, unlike the Kyoto Protocol which took eight years to come into play. Paris is the first agreement tying rich and poor nations in a common endeavour to protect the climate. However, the national targets for cutting carbon emissions are voluntary (BBC). The process of the Paris deal is binding, including a commitment for governments to keep returning to the issue to work towards clean energy targets that they all agree are inadequate. This is just one more reason as to why the world was watching the United States election; Secretary Clinton had pledged to take President Obama’s emissions cuts farther while Mr. Donald Trump wanted to tear up the agreement (BBC).


As the agreement is set to go into effect at the end of the year, it will be different for each country. Each country is allowed to create their own plan and there will be no sanctions for failing to control pollution or to put economic policies into practice. The only legally binding portion of the Paris accord is that each nation that signs pledges that they will meet every five years to discuss practical ways to change the agreement for the betterment of the world. Currently, there are only 60 countries that have ratified the agreement and they hold 48% of the carbon emissions. The deal will only become a legal force once 55 countries that hold 55 % of the global emissions signs and ratifies (NYT). 


Unlike the United States whose plans outline not only a 2050 plan, but a 2025 plan to cut emissions from 26% to 28%, India, which is the third largest polluting nation has a much less aggressive and less detailed plan. India wishes to increase the use of solar power significantly but does not make it clear as to how they wish to do so. China, the world’s largest polluter, is calling for their global emissions to drop but only after 2030 and is putting a national cap and trade system in place starting in 2017 (NYT).


Much evidence would suggest that the countries have ratified this agreement but do not know where to begin. Even the director of Climate and Environmental Programs in Norway, Christoffer Ringnes Klyve, notes how ratifying the Paris agreement quickly is better than doing so slowly. It allows countries to dream big and think of all the things they would like to change about their country to allow it to become more environmentally friendly. But, these countries do not have the faintest idea how they are actually going to achieve these goals which is the main problem (BBC). 


Since the November 2016 election, with Mr. Donald Trump becoming President Elect, there has been much speculation on where the United States will stand on the climate agreements that have already been signed. Mr. Trump has pledged to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate deal and to open up public land for coal, oil and gas extraction. Mr. Trump has even said that within his first 100 days of office that he will discontinue any payments to the UN Climate Change Council. He has even claimed that climate change is ‘hoax’ by the Chinese and wishes to withdraw the United States payments to the UN climate programmes (The Guardian). Considering that the United States is a model for the rest of the world, and developing nations look to the US to see how they would like their countries to look, this poses a threat to what the Paris Climate Deal could do for the world.


With Mr. Trump being President, it is estimated that the US greenhouse gases will output 16% at the end of his second term which will create a new wave of thought for those that are considering the climate deal, and may even change their minds in signing it or working towards lowering their own greenhouse gas emissions. Due to the power the United States holds, if other nations see a major nation that at one time was apart of signing one of the most historic documents no longer participating, it could sway their opinions in wanting to participate as well. There has however been a large movement of green groups in the US making their voices known by asking President Obama to sign a law that would not allow Mr. Trump to change what has already been created in the Climate Deal. But, Segolene Royale, the French environment minister who helped negotiate the Paris accord said, “The Paris agreement prohibits any exit for a period of three years, plus a year-long notice period, so there will be four stable years” (The Guardian).


The complete results of what are to come are still very unknown, although all eyes will be on the United States both before and after January to see how the nation will respond. It is important to remember when looking at the Paris deal, that it is not just for the United States as one, but for the world as a whole  to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


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