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Understanding the Paris Agreement


The Paris Climate Agreement was reached on December 12, 2015 in Paris, France at the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change. 

The agreement was later ratified, or formally adopted, by 190 countries, coming into effect on November 4, 2016. 7 countries - Iran, Turkey, Iraq, Eritrea, Libya, South Sudan, and Yemen - have never ratified the agreement.

The Paris Climate agreement has three main goals:


  1. To keep global warming well below 2°C compared with pre industrial levels, with an ambition of limiting this rise to 1.5°C. It is estimated that global temperatures have already risen 1.2C.

  2. To increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production

  3. To make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.


A key feature of the Paris Agreement is that it is “bottom up” in its approach.  Unlike previous attempts to negotiate the agreement where global targets were set and divided up amongst countries to achieve, the Paris Agreement allowed countries to submit realistic targets that they had determined on their own.  These are referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

The UNFCCC states that “the Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle of increasingly ambitious climate action carried out by countries.”   In practice that means that every 5 years countries resubmit their NDCs with the goal of them becoming increasingly more ambitious over time.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding treaty, but it actually has a mix of legally binding and non-binding provisions.  It is an agreement under international law binding on the parties and it requires them to submit NDCs, but it has no legal enforcement mechanisms for countries that do not meet their promised contributions.


Let’s take a look at some of the most important sections of the Paris Agreement to explore their significance:


  • The preamble sets the basis for the rest of the agreement and stresses the importance of science.

  • It also recognizes that developing countries have specific needs and circumstances.

  • It makes links to other key dimensions of sustainable development (Sustainable Development Goals), specifically poverty eradication, ending hunger, just transition, human rights, gender equality, nature conservation, and sustainable consumption and production.

  • It promotes broad participation from the public and all levels of government


  • Article 2 makes explicit the goals of the Paris agreement.

  • It pledges to keep global warming below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C

  • It notes the importance of climate adaptation and resilience

  • It calls for finance flows consistent with a low carbon future

  • It also underscores the principle of common but differentiated responsibility

3 4

  • Articles 3 and 4 introduce the idea of Nationally Determined Contributions and increasing ambition over time.

  • They stress that countries should aim to have their emissions peak as soon as possible but also recognize that developing countries will need more time to do this and will require support.

  • They note that developed countries should lead on emissions reduction.


  • Article 5 covers deforestation (REDD+) and carbon sinks.

  • REDD = reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, conservation of existing forest carbon stocks, sustainable forest management and enhancement of forest carbon stocks


  • Article 6 dives into some of the more implementation issues related to combating climate change and specifically how countries can cooperate and work together (see our detailed description on this here). 

  • Specifically, it introduces the idea of reducing emissions through market approaches like emissions trading and international carbon markets as well as non-market approaches, which are still being defined but could include things like putting price on carbon or applying taxes to discourage emissions.



  • Article 7 covers climate adaptation and resilience.

  • Resilience = The ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization and the capacity to adapt to stress and change (IPCC AR4, 2007).

  • Article 8 is on Loss and Damage, and specifically how to enhance understanding, action and support in order to reduce the effects of loss and damage.

  • It includes both extreme weather events and slow onset events

  • Solutions outlined in this section include early warning systems, emergency preparedness, comprehensive risk assessment and management, and insurance.


  • Article 9 covers financing climate action, and provides a call to action to developed countries to support developing countries in this endeavour.


  • Article 10 underpins the importance of technology and innovation and establishes a technology transfer mechanism.


  • Article 11 is on capacity building, and calls for country-driven capacity building at national, subnational and local levels that is supported by international cooperation.

  • It puts focus on aiding developing countries, in particular countries with the least capacity, such as the least developed countries, and those that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, such as small island developing States.


  • Article 12 calls for climate change education and public awareness


  • Article 13 stresses the crucial nature of transparency


  • Article 14 asks countries to periodically take stock of progress on implementation


  • Article 15 lays out the principles behind ensuring compliance to the provisions of the agreement

Read the full text of the Paris Agreement here.


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