What is Paris Agreement | Climate Change, Carbon Emissions and Footprinting Training Courses

What is the Paris agreement?

Date: 06/07/2017 in General

What is the Paris Agreement 2017


The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was negotiated and adopted by consensus on 12 December 2015, The Paris deal is mistakenly thought to be the world's first comprehensive climate agreement and 148 Parties have ratified it from a total of 197 Parties to the Convention. Note that the Kyoto Protocol was passed and adopted in December 1997 which represents the first comprehensive agreement for the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Paris Agreement deals with GHG emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.

The Kyoto Protocol represents the first comprehensive agreement for the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions under the UNFCCC framework. However, despite strong initial support from the international community, the Kyoto Protocol ultimately failed to induce significant emission reductions on a global scale. (From Kyoto to Paris: How Bottom-Up Regulation Could Revitalise the UNFCCC - Stanford Environmental Law Journal [SELJ] 2015). The relative failure of the Kyoto Protocol is often (however we have to ask if Kyoto projects avoided the emission to the atmosphere of 1,842,494,937 tonnes of CO2e is this a failure of Kyoto? The Kyoto Protocol has directly caused the avoidance of almost 2 billion tonnes of Greenhouse Gases entering the atmosphere, which would be there right now in the absence of Kyoto) has been attributed, by some commentators, to a variety of factors, one of the Protocol’s most significant flaws was its failure to promote participation by all UNFCCC parties (SELJ 2015). The lack of comprehensive participation under the Kyoto Protocol is largely a by-product of the agreement itself. By its explicit terms, the Kyoto Protocol only requires emission reductions from thirty-three countries during the first period of Kyoto commitments (SELJ 2015). The rationale for this decision being applied to industrialised nations only. Developing countries, including India and China, were not required to commit to reductions because their per-capita greenhouse gas emissions are much lower than those of developed nations. In 2014, the top carbon dioxide (CO2) emitters were China, the United States, the European Union, India, the Russian Federation, and Japan. These data include CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, as well as cement manufacturing and gas flaring. Together, these sources represent a large proportion of total global CO2 emissions. Therefore Kyoto’s only real failing is the exclusion of the new economies such as China and India – both of which now represent 32% of all energy-related GHG.

What does the Paris Agreement achieve? It is a voluntary and wholly aspirational set of good ideas. The Paris is not enforceable. There is an old saying that can be applied here “The Paris Agreement is like a lighthouse in a bog – brilliant but useless”.

The international legal gold standard is a treaty, a binding document that can be enforced by courts and arbitration tribunals. Such agreements comprise more than expressions of intent; they contain codified, justiciable or enforceable rules, along with sanctions for non-compliance. Indeed, treaties must be ratified by national parliaments, so that they become an integral component of the domestic law. The Paris agreement has none of these properties. The Paris agreement, (unlike its predecessor treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets) is intended to be non-binding, with each country voluntarily setting their own targets to reduce their carbon emissions without external verification.

This means that no country can be forced to set or abide by any specific targets and no penalties are applied to countries for falling short of targets – or rather aspirations - under the Paris Agreement.

The Paris Agreement is more aspirational than enforceable and has weaknesses versus the UNFCCC earlier commitments. However, it could charitably be seen as a great aspirational coming together internationally to acknowledge there is a global warming problem and we must do something about this existential threat. There is another old saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions” – let’s hope that this is not the case with Global Warming. According to Richard Falk (an international law and international relations scholar who taught at Princeton University for forty years) who writes that “on closer examination, the Agreement reveals several worrisome concerns. It is widely understood that international law is often ineffective because it lacks adequate means of enforcement when it prescribes behaviour that obligates the parties. That is, international law is inherently weak because unable to enforce what is agreed to, but Paris carried this weakness further, by raising a serious question as to whether anything at all had even been agreed. The Paris Agreement went to great lengths to avoid obligating the parties, making compliance with pledged reductions in carbon emissions and unmistakably voluntary undertaking. This is the core cause for doubt about what was agreed upon, raising the haunting question as to what emerged from Paris is even worth the paper upon which it is written”-(Voluntary International Law and the Paris Agreement )

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