COP21: The World Agrees Action On Climate Change

Yesterday saw 195 nations achieve an historic agreement in Paris to combat climate change. Why was it so important?

Firstly and perhaps most importantly, the Paris Agreement for the first time brings all nations into a common cause in the fight against climate change. 

Secondly, the universal agreement has as its main aim a commitment to keep a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Criticism from some detractors that this is all too little to late should not obscure the magnitude of the achievement that the Paris Agreement represents.

As we said in our post Climate Change Agreement in Durban – The Politics of Compromise back in December 2011, reiterated last year in our post Looking Back at Lima: Papering Over the Cracks

The value of an international consensus on any topic should never be underestimated. International law rests largely on agreements in the form of treaties and protocols. Consensus proceeds at the pace of the slowest and to the level of the most reluctant.

Canada Steps Back onto the World Stage

Paris was also important to Canada, which saw its government step back onto the world stage with a statement by Canada’s new Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna, supporting a restriction to 1.5 Celsius warming.

In a statement welcoming the Paris Agreement, Prime Minister Trudeau said that he will meet with Canada’s provincial premiers in the next 90 days to work on a plan to meet Canada’s international commitments to tackle climate change and transition to a low carbon economy.

“Along with the provinces and territories,” said the Prime Minister, “we will work with a wide array of stakeholders – and all Canadians – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including through carbon pricing. We will move towards a climate resilient economy, and we will invest in public transit, green infrastructure and clean technologies to create new jobs and support our communities. Internationally, we will provide significant support to help developing countries reduce their emissions and deal with the impacts of climate change

Main features of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement and the outcomes of COP21 address:

  • Mitigation – reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal
  • A transparency system and global stock-take – accounting for climate action
  • Adaptation – strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts
  • Loss and damage – strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts
  • Support – including finance, for nations to build clean, resilient futures

 As well as setting a long-term direction, countries will peak their emissions as soon as possible and continue to submit national climate action plans that detail their future objectives to address climate change.

This builds on the momentum of the unprecedented effort which has so far seen 188 countries contribute climate action plans to the new agreement, which will hopefully have a dramatic impact in slowing the pace of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The new agreement also establishes the principle that future national plans will be no less ambitious than existing ones, which means these 188 climate action plans provide a firm floor and foundation for higher ambition. Countries will submit updated climate plans – called nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – every five years.

Climate action will also be taken forward in the period before 2020. Countries will continue to engage in a process on mitigation opportunities and will put added focus on adaptation opportunities. Additionally, they will work to define a clear roadmap on ratcheting up climate finance to USD 100 billion by 2020

This is further underlined by the agreement’s transparency and accounting system, designed to provide clarity on countries’ implementation efforts, with flexibility for countries’ differing capabilities.

More Details on the Paris Agreement

  • All countries will submit adaptation communications, in which they may detail their adaptation priorities, support needs and plans. Developing countries will receive increased support for adaptation actions and the adequacy of this support will be assessed
  • The existing Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage will be significantly strengthened
  • The agreement includes a transparency framework for both action and support. The framework will provide clarity on countries’ mitigation and adaptation actions, as well as the provision of support. At the same time, it recognizes that Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States have special circumstances
  • The agreement includes a global stocktake starting in 2023 to assess the collective progress towards the goals of the agreement. The stocktake will be done every five years
  • The agreement includes a compliance mechanism, overseen by a committee of experts that operates in a non-punitive way

Signing the Paris Agreement

 The Agreement must be ratified by the parties and will enter into force after 55 countries that account for at least 55% of global emissions have deposited their instruments of ratification.

Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement by the COP , it will be deposited at the UN in New York and be opened for one year for signature on 22 April 2016–Mother Earth Day.

To read the Paris Agreement click here


Manning Environmental Law is a Canadian law firm based in Toronto, Ontario. Our practice is focussed on environmental law, energy law and aboriginal law. 

Paul Manning is a certified specialist in environmental law. He has been named as one of Canada’s leading Environmental Lawyers by Who’s Who Legal: Canada and ranked by Lexpert as one of Canada’s Leading Energy Lawyers.

As always, these posts  are provided only as a general guide and are not legal advice. If you do have any issue that requires legal advice please get in touch. Our contact details can be found here

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