The Paris Agreement: An Assessment

On December 12, 2015, government officials from 195 nations meeting in Paris, France, finalized a new agreement on climate change. The Paris Agreement seeks to limit the increase in global mean temperatures to “well below 2°C above pre- industrial levels.” The Agreement asserts that this goal is undertaken in order to enhance the implementation of the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), which is to prevent “dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Regardless of whether the new analyses of climate sensitivity are correct or not, the voluntary commitments to reduce emissions made by governments in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) would have little impact on the rate of warming. Thus, the Paris Agreement likely does not enhance the objective of the FCCC, either because the 2°C target is not desirable, or because restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary (or, if necessary, not sufficient) to achieve that target. As such, the Paris Agreement must be considered a new and separate treaty. Indeed, it implicitly acknowledges its status as a separate treaty, noting that it will only enter into force once it has been ratified by signatories representing 55% or more of global greenhouse gas emissions.

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