By Paul Davies and Alice Gunn

The Paris Agreement, adopted by 195 countries following the 21st session of the Conference of Parties (COP 21), is the first multilateral agreement on climate change that covers almost all of the world’s emissions. The Paris Agreement will be open for signature from 22 April 2016 and will enter into force 30 days after at least 55 parties, representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, have ratified it – the EU, China and the USA have announced plans to sign the agreement.

Key elements of the Paris Agreement include:

  • A long term goal to limit global warming to below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with an aspirational goal of limiting the temperature increase to 1.5°C. Crossing the 2°C threshold would result in catastrophic changes to the earth’s natural resources.
  • Nationally Determined Contributions from each party, to set out ambitious national climate action plans, which are to be reviewed every five years in a “global stocktake” to consider progress against the goals of the Paris Agreement. To achieve such contributions, parties have an obligation to pursue domestic mitigation measures.
  • A new market-based mechanism allowing parties to use international carbon trading to meet reduction targets.
  • Enhanced transparency and accountability, including parties’ biennial submission of greenhouse gas inventories, a technical expert review, a facilitative, multilateral consideration of progress and mechanism to facilitate implementation of and promote compliance.