Paris climate agreement walkthrough

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

On December 12, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted Decision 1/CP.21, adopting the Paris Agreement under that convention. The Paris Agreement itself is 12 pages long, and includes a preamble and 29 articles.  Its details merit a close read, as parties spent countless hours negotiating every word and piece of punctuation in the document.  Some articles have many operative clauses and address topics like temperature change and greenhouse gas emissions, while other articles are more ministerial.  Billions of dollars, and maybe the fate of the world, rests on the terms of these legal documents and how they are implemented.

Here's a overview-level walkthrough of the Paris Agreement:

  • Preamble: recognizes climate change as a "common concern of humankind" and an "urgent threat" to which an "effective and progressive response" is necessary, that least developed countries and others may have specific needs, and interactions with other social values like food security, decent work and quality jobs, and "the importance for some of the concept of 'climate justice'".
  • Article 1 provides definitions for Convention, Conference of the Parties, and Party.
  • Article 2 defines the Agreement's aim as "to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty," including a long-term temperature goal, a call for increased adaptation, and "making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development."
  • Article 3 requires all parties "to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts as defined in Articles 4, 7, 8, 10, 11, and 13" as "nationally determined contributions to the global response to climate change."
  • Article 4 addresses the long-term temperature goal established in Article 2.  It requires each party to "prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve" and to pursue domestic mitigation measures.  Parties are expected to increase the level of ambition reflected in their nationally determined contributions over time.  Developed country parties are expected to take the lead, while supporting developing country parties and small island developing states.
  • Article 5 calls for conservation and enhancement of sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases, including forests.  
  • Article 6 recognizes that some parties may choose to pursue voluntary cooperation in implementing their nationally determined contributions.  It establishes a mechanism to promote and track "internationally transferred mitigation outcomes."  It also defines a framework to promote non-market approaches.
  • Article 7 establishes a global goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change.  It requires parties to engage in adaptation planning processes and actions.  It also requires periodic "adaptation communication" reporting to the secretariat.
  • Article 8 addresses averting, minimizing, and dealing with "loss and damage" associated with the adverse effects of climate change, "including extreme weather events and slow onset events."  It uses the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts as its basis.
  • Article 9 calls for developed country parties to provide financial resources to assist developing country parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation, and to take the lead in "mobilizing climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments, and channels."
  • Article 10 promotes technology development and transfer to "improve resilience to climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
  • Article 11 calls for "capacity-building", to enhance the capacity and ability of developing country and vulnerable parties to take effective climate change action such as adaptation and mitigation.
  • Article 12 requires cooperation on "climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information."
  • Article 13 creates an "enhanced transparency framework for action and support" to build trust and confidence while allowing flexible and effective implementation.  It requires each party to regularly provide a "national inventory report of anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases," and information on how it has provided financial, technology transfer and capacity-building support to other countries.
  • Article 14 requires a "global stocktake" -- that the parties periodically "take stock of the implementation of this Agreement to assess the collective progress towards achieving the purpose of this Agreement and its long-term goals."  Article 14 provides that the Conference of the Parties shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter unless the Conference otherwise decides.
  • Article 15 establishes an expert-based committee as "a mechanism to facilitate implementation of and promote compliance with" the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 16 provides procedures for aligning future meetings of parties to the Paris Agreement with the meetings of the Conference of the Parties.
  • Articles 17, 18, and 19 provide procedures for the Convention secretariat, Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and Subsidiary Body for Implementation established by the Convention to also apply to the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 20 provides processes for signature, ratification, acceptance, approval and accession of the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 21 provides that the Paris Agreement "shall enter into force on the thirtieth day after the date on which at least 55 Parties to the Convention accounting in total for at least an estimated 55 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession."
  • Articles 22 and 23 provide processes for adopting any amendments or annexes to the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 24 governs dispute resolution.
  • Article 25 provides that each party shall have one vote, and establishes a process for "regional economic integration organizations" to vote as a bloc.
  • Article 26 provides that the Secretary-General of the United Nations shall be the Depositary of the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 27 prohibits any reservations being made to the Agreement.
  • Article 28 provides a process for a party to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.
  • Article 29 governs the original of the Paris Agreement.
The final language of the Paris Agreement's 29 articles, and Decision 1/CP.21 adopting the Paris Agreement, were each adopted by consensus by all of the 195 member states and the European Union participating in the COP21 summit.  Decision 1/CP.21 and the Paris Agreement will play important roles going forward as the world tackles climate change.  Their language will shape business, government, society, and the environment. 

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