• This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.
  • Earth.Org Newsletters

    Get focused newsletters especially designed to be concise and easy to digest

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

What Is the Paris Agreement?

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels by Maisie Kemp Global Commons Sep 21st 20235 mins
What Is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is the world’s first comprehensive climate agreement adopted in 2015 by almost every nation on Earth that promotes a global consensus on addressing the climate crisis. But what does it actually propose, and five years on, how much progress has been made? 

What Is the Paris Agreement?

Back in 2015, at COP21 in Paris, countries of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) agreed to accelerate and intensify the actions needed for a sustainable global future. The Agreement sets out a framework for limiting global warming to below 1.5C or ‘well below 2C’ above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. Global temperatures have already risen 1 degree and predictions for 2.7C warming or more would have catastrophic environmental, social, and economic impacts. The Agreement also asks countries to become carbon neutral by no later than the second half of this century. 

Under the Agreement, each signatory country submits their own plan for emissions reductions, called a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), in line with the overall targets. These include committing to improve financial preparedness against the impacts of the climate crisis alongside directing finance flows to projects which align with lower GHG emissions. In line with evidence that less developed countries that contribute minimally to global warming are likely to be the most severely affected by the climate crisis, the Paris Agreement makes recommendations for developed countries to assist developing nations develop climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, committing a combined US$100 billion a year.

The Paris Agreement opened for signature on 22 April 2016 and entered into force on 4th November 2016 after the threshold of 55 signatory countries accounting for 55% of emissions was met. As of 2020, all UNFCCC members have signed the Agreement, with 189 (representing around 90% of global emissions) gaining formal approval on their climate proposals. The United States withdrew from the Agreement in 2020 during the Trump Administration, but recommitted in 2021 under President Joe Biden. The only significant emitters which are not parties are Iran and Turkey, ranking 8th and 15th in the world respectively for GHG emissions. 

You might also like: What is the Kyoto Protocol?

How Close are We to Meeting Any of These Commitments? 

Paris agreement; NDCs for each country; Map by climate action tracker

Map evaluating a broad spectrum of government targets and actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement temperature limit. Image: Climate Action Tracker.

The Paris climate agreement requires all parties to report on emissions and efforts towards climate change mitigation, with their NDCs being updated every five years. In July 2023, the UN called on all Parties to update their NDCs in preparation for the upcoming COP28 summit, which will take place this November in Dubai.

The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) covers 80% of global emissions and assesses countries based on how likely their Paris commitments will achieve the 1.5C target. “If all governments meet their Paris Agreement target, we calculate the world would still see 3C of warming, but that warming is likely to be even higher given most are not taking enough action to meet their targets”, says Bill Hare, CEO of Climate Analytics, one of the CAT’s organisations.

Morocco is one of only two countries with climate mitigation plans consistent with limiting warming to 1.5C. The country’s National Energy Strategy calls for generating 42% of its electricity from renewables by the end of 2020 (which they are on track to achieve) and 52% by 2030. 

At the other end of the scale is the US, with the CAT describing its Paris targets as ‘critically insufficient’. In 2020, President Trump withdrew the USA from the Paris Agreement. Despite the US re-joining again within months led by President Joe Biden,  the Trump administration rolled back many critical environmental protection policies and climate action during his four-year tenure – keep in mind that the the US remains to be the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide globally, the leading cause of global warming. It’s too early to tell the extent of which the Trump administration has damaged the country’s progress in combating global warming. 

Slightly more positive action comes from China, who have committed to levelling off their carbon emissions by 2030 at the very latest, whilst India has committed to generating 40% of its electricity from non-fossil fuel sources by 2030. Part of India’s pledge also sees the creation of a carbon sink area of 2.5 to 3 billion tons of CO2 equivalent by 2030. This action is crucial, and cannot come with much delay- a worldwide failure to meet the current targets could reduce global GDP by more than 25% by 2100.  

The summit’s host, the United Arab Nations (UAE), recently issued a third update of its NDCs, setting a target of reducing emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, up 9% from the previous target. The efforts outlined in the new UAE climate plan, however, are hailed “insufficient” in an analysis by non-profit Climate Action Tracker (CAT) published in July, CAT said CO2 emissions are expected to increase through to 2030 as the country plans to further increase fossil fuel production and consumption, at odds with the urgent decrease needed to curb global warming.


Despite pledges and commitments from governments around the world to cap global warming below 1.5C, a 2022 UN report found that the world is on track to exceed the feared 2C mark by 2030.

In fact, the world remains far from delivering a safe climate future, as an overwhelming majority of countries are underdelivering on net-zero targets and their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), as a paper published in June 2023 showed. Researchers assessed net-zero targets for 35 major emitters, including the European Union, which together accounted for about 82% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019. They found that about 90% of the assessed net-zero plans are unlikely to be achieved, with confidence levels of “lower” or “much lower.” India, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates – this year’s COP28 host, are among the countries most behind in terms of achieving their targets. The latter nation has repeatedly described fossil fuels as “key” components to a smooth energy transition. On multiple occasions, President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan assured that the UAE would keep providing fossil fuels to countries around the world “for as long as the world needs it.”

It is clear that the Paris Agreement is more important than ever, and can be a powerful and influential force in the fight against the climate crisis. But signatory countries and other will need to take it up a notch and urgent action must be taken if we are to slow down the rapid rate of global warming and to meet the 1.5C target.

You might also like: Achieving Net Zero: Where Are We Today?

Tagged: paris agreement

About the Author

Maisie Kemp

Maisie Kemp is a final year geography student at University College London. She has gained work experience alongside her degree in the sustainability field, with a particular interest in business and the environment, as well as conservation and sustainable living. Her passions for geography are focused on the interactions between the environment and society.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Hand-picked stories once a fortnight. We promise, no spam!

Instagram @earthorg Follow Us