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What is the Paris Agreement?

At COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015, parties to the UNFCCC reached a landmark agreement to combat climate change. 195 nations reached a historic agreement to combat climate change and accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low-carbon future.

The Paris Agreement, for the first time, brought all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.

The treaty started in Berlin in 1995 aiming to review the implementation of the “Rio Convention” – the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – which entered into force on 21 March 1994. The UNFCCC was adopted at the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit of 1992 and sets out an overall framework intended to stabilise atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs)  to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

The purpose of the Paris Agreement is to limit the increase in global average temperature to well below 2ºC above pre-industrial levels, with an effort to limit the increase to 1.5°C . It will do this through measures set by each country – Nationally Determined Contributions – and reviewed regularly.  Currently, over a fifth of the global population live in regions that have already experienced warming in at least one season that is greater than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.


Rhodes,  C. J. (2016). The 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference: COP21. Science Progress. 99(1), 97–104.

United Nations. (n.d.) Climate Change. What is the Paris Agreement? Access: https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/what-is-the-paris-agreement

WMO. (2016). Outcomes of COP21 and the IPCC. World Meteorological Organization. Access: https://public.wmo.int/en/resources/bulletin/outcomes-of-cop21-and-ipcc

Allen, M. R.; Dube, O. P.; Solecki, W.; Aragón-Durand F.; Cramer, W.; Humphreys, S.; Kainuma, M.; Kala, J.; Mahowald, N.; Mulugetta, Y.; Perez, R.; Wairiu, M.; & Zickfeld, K. (2018). Framing and Context. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty. Access: https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/sites/2/2019/05/SR15_Chapter1_Low_Res.pdf

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