Subject: Environmental Studies
Language: English (U.S.)
Pages: 15
legal research about : Paris 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the role and impact of U.S.A as a party to this treaty




The UN Climate Change Conference of December 12 2015 culminated in the Paris Agreement with 195 nations becoming signatories of the Agreement. The Conference was the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties. The Agreement is deemed a critical turning point for the world as it is engineered towards guaranteeing a climate-resilient and zero-carbon globe. Experts have observed that the Paris Agreement is the globe’s first all-inclusive agreement on climate change. The Agreement calls for accelerated and intensified actions and financial flows to guarantee a sustainable low carbon globe for current and future generations. The purpose of this paper is to provide an in-depth analysis of the Paris Agreement, its purpose of creation, objectives as well as the resultant outcomes of the Agreement.


On December 12 2015, during the UN Climate Change Conference, 195 nations became signatories of the Paris Agreement. Adopting the Agreement meant that the form and content of the Agreement were now established before the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris Agreement was necessitated by the fact that the prior global and national commitments on greenhouse emissions were designed to expire in 2020. The new Agreement set forth the new commitments on climate change that were to be implemented beyond 2020.

The Agreement was adopted through the Decision 1/CP.21 (Northrop & Ross, 2016; UNFCCC, 2016). The Agreement brings all the collective climate efforts of nations together to undertake global-scale efforts to fight climate change, adapt to its adverse effects, and provide the support that developing nations need to do the same.

According to Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, the goals of the Agreement include limiting an increase in global temperature to below 2°C in this century, preventing the worst outcomes of climate change, as well as building global climate resilience (Northrop, 2016). The Paris Agreement also calls out to Parties to further limit the temperature increase to below 1.5°C for the second half of the century. The COP recognized that this restrain on temperature increase would profoundly decrease the impacts and risks associated with climate change.

Furthermore, the Agreement aimed at increasing the capacity of nations to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change and foster the development of low greenhouse gas emissions without putting the world’s capability to produce food in jeopardy. In addition, Article 2 prescribes the necessity of making financial flows consistent with low greenhouse gas emissions’ targets and climate resilience building and development. The Paris Agreement has been cited as the world’s best incentive so far to foster divestment from the use of fossil fuel for energy production.

The objectives of the Paris Agreement are timely as scientists have issued warnings that if the greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, the globe will pass a level beyond which global warming and climate change become irreversible and catastrophic (Harvey, 2015). The impeding threshold is a temperature rise of 2°C above the levels of the pre-industrial era. According to the current emissions data and estimated trajectories, the globe is currently heading towards a rise of approximately 5°C. It is thus crucial to mitigate the situation before the threshold is reached.

To meet these ambitious objectives, a new technology and capacity-building framework, as well as efficient financial flows will be put in place. These frameworks will provide developing nations with the support they need to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement in line with their own individual national objectives. Furthermore, an enhanced transparency framework will also be instituted under the tenets of the Agreement to ensure that there is transparency in both action and support mechanisms.

The Paris Agreement was intended to come into full effect when at least 55 member nations party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that represent at least 55% of the total worldwide greenhouse gas emissions had submitted their acceptance, instruments of ratification, or accession (Northrop & Ross, 2016). The speed at which the submissions would be made was entirely dependent on how quick the national governments completed their domestic approval processes.

To indicate their consent to become parties to the Paris Agreement, nations need to sign the Agreement with their signature conditional to domestic approval to join the Agreement (Northrop & Ross, 2016). Many nations have also had to enact legislation that was necessary to implement the Paris Agreement. For instance, in Mexico, the consent of the Senate is required before domestic approval to join the Agreement is approved. In Australia, the only requirement for domestic approval is formal notification and the introduction of the tenets of the Agreement in the National Assembly. In the United States, the domestic approval is granted based on presidential authority as most international agreements are consented to through executive agreements. Once a nation has completed its domestic processes, it submits instrument of approval, acceptance, or ratification to the UNFACCC to indicate that it is ready to join the Agreement.

By October 5 2016, the threshold for entry into force for the Agreement had been reached. As of November 2016, 193 members of the UNFCCC had become signatories of the treaty with 115 Parties having ratified the agreement. On November 4 2016, the Paris Agreement legally came into force (UNFCCC, 2016). The Agreement’s entering into force by November 2016 was made possible by several EU states ratifying the agreement in October of 2016. The first meeting of the Conference in relation to the Paris Agreement was set to take place in Marrakech along with CMP12 and COP22.

Unlike most other international environmental agreements that have a top down structure, the Paris Agreement has a bottom up structure. The structure is different because targets set at the international level for individual states to implement characterize the Agreement. The Agreement emphasizes consensus building and is thus considered an executive agreement, unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which is described as an international treaty. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement has blurred the lines between developed and developing nations’ contributions by emphasizing that every nation sets targets that suit its own national circumstances and priorities in regards to addressing climate change.

Elements of the Paris Agreement

           The Paris Agreement addresses significant sectors that are necessary to help the globe combat climate change and adapt to its adverse effects. These sectors include:

1.     Temperature goal – The main objective of the Agreement is to restrain global temperature increase to below 2°C in this century while continuously striving towards reducing the increase to 1.5°C. The section on the temperature goal can be found in Article 2 of the Agreement.

2.     Worldwide peaking of greenhouse gas emissions – According to Article 4 of the Agreement, Parties intend to achieve global peaking of the greenhouse emissions as quickly as possible. The purpose of this is to strike a sustainable balance between the sources and removals of anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases by the second half of the century (Climate Policy Observer, 2016). The Parties recognize that it will take longer for the developing nation members to reach peak levels.

3.     Mitigation – Also contained in Article 4 of the Agreement, mitigation requires all Parties to commit to preparing, communicating, and maintaining Nationally Determined Contributions as well as pursuing comprehensive domestic actions to achieve their respective NDCs. Furthermore, Parties are required to prepare and communicate their progressive NDCs every five years. Every progressive NDC needs to portray progress from the previous one and reflect the highest possible goal. Under this Article, developed nations are mandated to be at the forefront of the initiatives by undertaking economy-wide reduction targets (Climate Policy Observer, 2016). On the other hand, developing nations should continuously strive towards enhancing their mitigation efforts while at the same time pursuing economy-wide reduction over the course of time owing to different national circumstances and priorities.

4.     Sinks and reservoirs – Article 5 of the Agreement calls on Parties to conserve as well as improve the sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases including forests.

5.     Market and nonmarkets – Article 6 of the Paris Agreement sets up a framework that contributes to the mitigation efforts of Parties as well as supporting sustainable development. The Article also develops a mechanism for non-market initiatives to assist in sustainable development.

6.     Adaptation – Article 7 of the Paris Agreement stipulates that the Parties need to coordinate in order to significantly strengthen adaptation efforts of every nation. These adaptation efforts include reducing vulnerability of nations to climate change, increasing national resilience, and improving adaptive capacity of the Parties. The goal of global adaptation can only be achieved through mutual international cooperation and support. Every Party should prepare and communicate periodically their adaptation priorities, support and implementation needs, plans, and initiatives. As per the Article, developing nations will receive technological and financial support from the developed nations to support their adaptation requirements and initiatives.

7.     Loss and Damage – The element of loss and damage is addressed in Article 8 of the Paris Agreement. The Agreement improves on the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage, enabling it to develop several measures to assist developing nations and other vulnerable countries in coping with the effects of climate change such as sea-level increase and extreme, unpredictable weather. The Article establishes a framework for Parties to understand and support one another in regards to loss and damage.

8.     Support – Support is covered under Articles 9, 10, and 11 of the Paris Agreement. Under these sections, the Agreement affirms that developed countries are mandated to continuously lend support to developing nations as they attempt to build climate-resilient nations and futures. For the first time, the Agreement is encouraging voluntary contributions by smaller Parties. Furthermore, according to the tenets of the Agreement, developed country Parties are required to submit their future initiatives towards providing support to developing nations every two years. The Financial Mechanism of the Convention, which also includes the Green Climate Fund, will also serve the Agreement as financial support to the developing nations.

9.     Transparency – Article 13 of the Agreement prescribes the establishment of a flexible accounting and transparency system that accurately presents information on action and support by the Parties based on their differing capacities and capabilities. The information submitted by every Party periodically will also be subject to international review. The Article also established a mechanism that promotes implementation and compliance that is non-adversarial/non-punitive in nature. The established mechanism will report annually to the Convention of Parties.

10. Global Stock take – Article 14 prescribes that a global stock take will take place in 2023 and every five years from then. The stock take is designed to analyze the collective progress of Parties towards the achievement of the objectives of the Paris Agreement. The outcomes of the stock take will help the Parties update their NDCs as well as promoting international cooperation.

11. Decision 1/CP.21 – The decision highlights a number of approaches to support action before 2020. These approaches include making the provision of urgent finance more efficient, enhancing the technical examination process, improving technology, and promoting high-level engagement.

It should be noted that the Paris Agreement also called on non-Party stakeholders to initiate actions towards addressing climate change. The non-Party stakeholders that are privy to the Agreement include financial institutions, the civil society, regional and sub-national authorities, and the private sector.


The INDCs were prepared based on individual national policy circumstances and the global framework under the Paris Agreement. The participating nations were supposed to develop a national framework for their contributions based on their own capabilities, priorities, and circumstances. In turn, these nation-specific criteria were to work within the global framework established under the Paris Agreement (World Resources Institute, n.d.). The result of pairing the national and global priorities is a comprehensive feedback loop between international, regional, and national decision making on matters pertaining to climate change.

The INDCs serve as a platform for individual governments to communicate to the global community how they each intend to curb emissions and reduce the effects of climate change in their countries. Every INDC postulates how the particular nation intends to address climate change with respect to its own domestic capabilities and circumstances. Many INDCs also addressed how the submitting nation would adapt to climate change and its impacts as well as how they will provide support to or gain support from other nations in building climate resilience and adopting low carbon emission policies.

The proposals were described as ‘intended’ because they were communicated before the Paris Agreement was finalized (Climate Policy Observer, n.d.). However, the proposals become Nationally Determined Contributions when the individual nations submit their instrument of ratification, or approval to be a signatory of the Paris Agreement. The NDCs will have to be updated progressively every five years. This is known as the principle of progression as the NDCs will have to be more robust than the ones for the previous five years. Moreover, Article 3 of the Agreement requires the NDCs to be ambitious so as to hasten the process of achieving the objectives of the COP Agreement.

It should be noted that under the Paris Agreement, every participating nation would be required to provide an updated NDC every five years. The update will reflect the country’s progress beyond the previous NDC in its commitment to building climate resilience and curbing greenhouse emissions. The revisions are supposed to represent bigger initiatives to the previous NDCs. Countries are also expected to submit their national emissions inventories regularly and report to the UNFCCC on their progress.


It is also important to point out that the NDCs are not binding under the eyes of international law. They do not have this capacity because they lack language that is obligatory, normative character, or the specificity required for an Agreement to become legally binding. In addition, the Agreement has not established a mechanism that can force a Party to set targets in its NDC by a certain date or set punitive measures against a Party that has not met a target set in its NDC.

Switzerland and the European Union were the first to submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The two Parties did so by March of last year with Switzerland proposing to cut her emissions by 50% by 2030.On the other hand, the EU proposed to cut its emission to 40% by 2030 (Rattani, 2015).

Papua New Guinea became the first country to submit its Nationally Determined Contribution on March 29 2016 (Northrop, 2016). This means that Papua New Guinea was the first Party to submit its instrument of ratification and complete its domestic measure in order for the Agreement to be legally enforced within her borders. According to her NDC, the Pacific nation intends to transition to 100% renewable energy by the year 2030.

Importance of NDCs

           The Nationally Determined Contributions are mainly important because they represent the core process established within the Paris Agreement to continuously increase global efforts towards climate change. All the nations that are signatories to the Agreement are mandated to create report on, and maintain five year NDCs as well as enact domestic legislative measures to ensure they achieve the objectives set out in each respective NDC (Northrop, 2016). The NDCs portray the world’s capability and effort towards achieving the main goals of the Paris Agreement.

           Furthermore, the NDCs are important because they communicate to the world how a particular nation is willing to tackle adaptation issues within its borders. The adaptation components include the needs of the country, its goals, and the activities it plans to undertake in coping with all the effects of a warming planet (Northrop, 2016). Some of these effects include a rise in sea level, increase in drought, as well as unpredictable weather. 

The adaptation components also include how the nations are prepared to deal with the loss and damage associated with climate change at the national level for decades to come. The initiatives formulated in the NDCs reflect how crucial adaptation is for all areas of economic and social activity (UNFCC, 2015). They also demonstrate the strong commitment of the Parties to the Agreement to strengthen both their mitigation and adaptation efforts and ensure there is a synergy between the two.


           The United States of America has had a major role and impact in the implementation of the Paris Agreement. As mentioned earlier in the paper, a 55% threshold was required for the Paris Agreement to come into full effect. The threshold could not be achieved without at least one of the top emitting countries accepting the Agreement. The United States is among the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, along with China, Russia, and the European Union (Northrop & Ross, 2016). The quicker that the US gained domestic legal acceptance of the Paris Agreement, the quicker the threshold could be reached and the Paris Agreement could finally be implemented.

           As iterated above, the US is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after China. The other Parties privy to the Paris Agreement are looking towards the US to lead the way in significantly cutting its greenhouse gas emissions as stipulated in the Agreement. The US needs to provide the momentum and the political will to ensure the COP achieves the mandates it has set out in the Paris Agreement (Milman, 2015). The US needs to initiate domestic measures to reduce its carbon output drastically. Since most of the world has economic ties to the US, her climate change efforts will ripple across the globe, increasing the capacity of the COP to attain its target and move on to even more ambitious climate projects.  

           The United States is also a major contributor towards the Mission Innovation initiative that was highlighted during the COP21 Paris Conference. The initiative asserts that innovation is essential in realizing the goals of the Paris Agreement. The US has committed to double her expenditure on research and development programs geared towards clean energy solutions. Her increased financial support to research and development is an immense boost to the Parties’ commitment to become sustainable renewable energy dependent (Climate Policy Observer, 2016). Furthermore, the US is committed to providing research and development support to developing country Parties to promote cooperation in the global actions towards climate change.

           In addition, the Paris Agreement has set up a framework whereby developed nations are supposed to provide appropriate financial flows to developing nations to assist them in achieving their individual NDCs. The United States has the second largest economy in the world and as such is mandated under the Agreement to provide increased funding to the developing country Parties that are privy to the Paris Agreement (Harvey, 2015). Developing nations are dependent on the contributions of the United States and other economic heavyweights to provide financial flows required to meet their climate change targets.  


           On 12 December 2015, during the COP21, 195 countries agreed to the final pact of the Paris Agreement. The participating Parties agreed to reduce their national emissions as the best way of reducing global greenhouse gas. The Parties also agreed to significantly reduce their carbon output, with individual measures starting as soon as possible. During the Conference, island nations including the Philippines, the Seychelles, and the Pacific strongly recommended setting a goal of 1.5°C instead of the prescribed 2°C. Their strong sentiments are indicative of their vulnerability as their existence is clearly being threatened by the increase in sea level. However, a consensus was reached to limit the temperature rise to below 2°C until 2050. Parties were then encouraged to further limit the increase to below 1.5°C beyond 2050.

           Some prominent members of the scientific and civil society communities have criticized the Paris Agreement. James Hansen, considered by many to be the father of global awareness of climate change, brandished the Paris 2015 climate talks as just promises with no action (Milman, 2015). His criticism arises from the fact that the talks did not establish a progressive or complete ban on fossil fuels, which are by far the cheapest source of energy available to majority of the globe. He also asserts that the only way to bring down greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible is to enact legally binding taxes on greenhouse gas emissions on all nations.

           Other analysts have observed that the major objectives of the Paris Agreement are predicated on the assumption that the high polluters – China, US, Australia, Indonesia, Russia, and Canada- will voluntarily and significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions. The analysts assert that without any binding enforcement framework that can measure and regulate carbon dioxide emissions across the board from factory up-to state level and /or without any fiscal pressure or penalties to dissuade nationals from engaging in bad behavior, reduction in emissions by these high polluters will be hard to come by (Druzin, 2016).  

           To encourage Parties to fulfill every target on their NDCs, the COP has adopted a ‘name and shame’ system. The system is meant to act as the mechanism that will encourage Parties to voluntarily fulfill the commitments they have stipulated in their NDCs. It is the hope of the UNFCCC that the Parties will commit themselves to fulfilling and even surpassing their five-year targets because they want to win the approval of the rest of the members of the COP and to have their achievements recognized on the global stage.

The lack of a binding enforcement mechanism can be disastrous in the future for the COP as it makes the entire system very fragile. In case some of the Parties privy to the Agreement decide to rescind their consent, other governments will follow suit (Druzin, 2016). The result is the eventual collapse of the Paris Agreement without its objectives been met. In such a scenario, the globe would be tumbling towards irreversible effects of climate change without a consensus on the way forward.

Druzin (2016) explains that international environmental agreements are always susceptible to failure when there is no legally binding mechanism owing to the ‘tragedy of the commons’, a malady that destroys mutual cooperation. On a domestic stage, the tragedy of the commons can be easily fixed through regulation. However, on an international level, the lack of a central authority hampers cooperation because there is no mechanism to prevent nations from over-exploiting the globe’s finite environmental resources. The researcher warns that lack of a comprehensive enforcement mechanism will lead to the failure of the Paris Agreement, just as was the case with the Kyoto Protocol.

To avert such a disastrous situation, Druzin (2016) recommends the adoption of a commons management fund deposit scheme by the Conference of Parties privy to the Paris Agreement. Under the CMF, the Parties would contribute a deposit to the international regulatory body mandated to oversee the implementation of the tenets of the Paris Agreement. The Parties will be informed that all or part of their deposit will be forfeited if they fail to honor a commitment they set in their NDCs.

The goal of the CMF is to develop a significant degree of confidence in other Parties’ commitment to the provisions of the Agreement. This inspired confidence will avert any instances of a tragedy of commons occurring amongst the Parties. Countries enter into these international agreements with every intention of complying with the tenets stipulated in the agreement. The only problem arises when there mistrust begins to develop, as members do not fully trust the others to commit to the provisions of the agreement.


           During the COP21 held in Paris 2015, the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reached the Paris Agreement that would see greater and more intensified global efforts towards combating climate change and guaranteeing a sustainable low carbon world. The main objective of the Paris Agreement is to strengthen global climate resilience by investing in initiatives that will keep the global rise in temperature below 2°C above the pre-industrial levels. The Agreement also calls for nations to undertake efforts that can further decrease the temperature rise to below 1.5°C in this century. Furthermore, the Agreement seeks to build climate resilience for each individual nation. All these goals can be achieved through enhanced capacity building and technology framework, increased transparency in action and support as well as appropriate levels of investment in combating climate change.

           The Agreement required all Parties to outline their best national efforts to combat climate change in their respective Nationally Determined Contributions. The Parties have been mandated to review and update their NDCs every five years as well as produce regular reports on their progress in achieving the goals they set out in their NDCs.

           Several criticisms have arisen against the Paris Agreement. The main concern shared by many experts in the field of climate change is the lack of a legally binding enforcement mechanism that guides the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Without such a regulatory body, many nations are not incentivized to fulfill the commitments they individually outlined in their NDCs. This will lead to a collapse of the Agreement, the same thing that happened to the Kyoto Protocol. Furthermore, a tragedy of commons may develop as mistrust develops amongst the COP. To prevent this scenario, experts have called for the establishment of the commons management fund deposit scheme to foster trust and cooperation among the Parties that are signatory to the Paris Agreement. The CMF could be established under the UNFCCC and it will be tasked with ensuring that nations that do not fulfill their commitments lose their contributions.


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