February 3, 2016

The Paris Agreement: what does it contain?

The BBC talked of a landmark agreement; CNN, through one of its reporters ran with the title “this is the end of fossil fuel”. The Aljazeera and France 24 both called it a historic agreement. This was only a glimpse of the excitement with which the Paris agreement was received; the international media were in no way blowing the issue out of proportion as they are sometime accused of, their coverage reflected the international and local reception of the announcement of the agreement. A look at the websites of various development organizations reflects the same optimistic enthusiasm and excited reception seen in the international media; words like “monumental triumph” from UNEP and “Historic agreement” from World Bank are just a few of what was being used to describe the agreement and the mood that followed.

The question however is, Does this agreement actually offer the hope the world has been yearning for? Is this international excitement anything to go by? Is there any substance in this excitement? What exactly does this agreement talk about? Are the ambitions of the developing world well considered? Will the agreement lead to the achievement of the ULTIMATE UNFCCC objective of stabilizing Green House Gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system?

In this article, I have set out to critically review this widely popular document while paying special focus on what its content mean to me as a Policy student.

Prior to the conference I reviewed the draft meeting text (http://studentofpolicy.blogspot.com/2015/11/cop-21-grand-climate-change-conference.html / http://unfccc.int/meetings/paris_nov_2015/meeting/8926.php ) by breaking it down to its most essential parts and placing emphasis on what would get the highest attention at Paris. I was of the opinion that INDCs, NDMCC, Finance and adaptation would take centre stage at the discussion. This article is therefore more of a feedback to the predictions I made in that article and a critical highlight of the main content of the agreement.  

The agreement

This hope-inducing historical agreement is officially being referred to as “the Paris agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change”; it is however currently without a title I can site. It is currently a 32 paged document accessible to the public on the UNFCC website at this link;http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09r01.pdf  .

At first glimpse, the document gives you the impression of a technically limiting document that can only be understood by a particular group of individuals. Unfortunately, even after deeper analysis, if you do not have prior knowledge of the UNFCCC lingo, you will have a difficult time reading the document or understanding what it is the nations agreed on. Fortunately, a CNN author developed a cheat sheet that can help you with that:http://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/30/world/cop21-acronym-explainer/

 What does the agreement address?

The agreement opens in the usual way most UN agreements do; it has notes on clarity, acknowledgments and areas of emphasis among other necessary phrases. This is then followed by a section titled adoption; this clarifies the title of the document, sets the period when the document will be open for signature from parties (22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017) and indicates the formation of the Ad hoc working group on the Paris agreement. This section is followed by another that mainly acknowledges the INDCs and which acknowledges the failure of the current pledges in meeting the least-cost 2 degrees scenario by 2030.

The “landmark deal” digs deep into the critical issues beginning from section three. Here, under the title, Decisions To Give Effect To The Agreement, the agreement focuses on mitigation, Adaptation, Loss and damage, Finance, technology development and transfer, capacity building, transparency of action and support and Global stock take facilitating implementation and compliance. This is then followed by what actions are expected prior to 2020.

Under mitigation, I was keen on looking at whether they kept the issue of NDMCC which had been introduced in the draft agreement. I was glad to note that it was completely left out; in my prior article I had noted that this would have been nothing more than an overlap on the INDCs. It is however acknowledging the serious emphasis this agreement has put on the INDC, it has been spelled out that countries will not be liable to enter into the agreement before submitting their INDCs. It also notes that INDCs will be submitted every five years and that they should be clear, well explained and cover all bases.

The adaptation component was not as strong as anticipated, it touched mostly on the support developed countries are to offer to developing countries. It closes with a request to the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to expedite support being offered in the formulation of national adaptation plans. On the component of loss and damage, emphasis has been placed on the Warsaw international mechanism and its continuing process. The agreement has also proposed the establishment of a risk repository that will serve to provide information on insurance and risk transfer; this one seems like an interesting arrangement that can serve a very successful practical sense.

On Finance, which was evidently one of the most widely anticipated areas, the existing pledge of 100 billion per year being mobilized by developed countries shall continue until 2025 when a new agreement is to be set. It mentions a new concept of results based payment and calls for coordination of support being given. It notes that GCF and GEF, including SCCF, LDCF of the GEF, shall serve towards fulfilling the interests of the agreement.

Under the Enhanced Actions Prior to 2020 section, the agreement has proposed a number of measures aimed mainly at fulfilling targets of the second commitment period (Kyoto protocol revision for 2012- 2020) as well as ensuring momentum for implementation of the new agreement is set. It lays emphasis on the need for countries to ensure they fulfill all the requirements set in the previous decisions, including, the Doha amendments, pledges in the Cancun agreement, submission of biennial update reports and scale up financial support to meet the 100 billion target annually by 2020. It also urges them to be transparent in their emissions reporting, encourages cooperation among nations for knowledge and technology transfer, encourages utilization of the CTCN (Climate Technology Centre and Network) for assistance on effective mitigation proposals and proposes other cooperation and relation building measures.

At the end there is a 12 pager annex that seems to be a summary of the agreement. It has also been titled the agreement.





  1. Good to see this here. If anyone has been able to trace whether the concept of inter-generational equity has been captured, please feel free to share. This analysis was mostly limited to the major outputs that stood out in the document

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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