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Enock Ebbah

What Is the Paris Agreement? And Why Is It Important?

Climate change is a global emergency that transcends nations and borders. It requires combined international cooperation, coordinated solutions and steadfast commitment to preventing global warming and climate change at all levels.

March 2024

With its tenth anniversary on the horizon next year, we will look back at the Paris Agreement and its role in climate action over the last decade. We’ll examine its key points and explain why it’s so important to the future of our planet.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. Its overarching goal is to mitigate the rise in global temperatures and create a united effort to prevent climate change.

The Paris Agreement, adopted by representatives from 196 countries on December 12, 2015, came into force in November 2016. It superseded the Kyoto Protocol—a similar pledge made in 1992—as the critical regulatory instrument for global climate action.

The Paris Agreement operates on a five-year cycle of increasing the degree of ambitious climate action compared to previous fragmented plans set out by different countries.

How does the Paris Agreement work?

The Paris Agreement comprehensively addresses the impacts of climate change by making provisions for mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and finance. It also covers technology, transparency, implementation, compliance, and institutions. The unique characteristics of the Paris Agreement include the following:

  • The Paris Agreement operates on a global level.
  • It has a hybrid legal framework in that it is a treaty in international law. However, it is not legally binding on all the provisions named above.
  • It applies a carefully calibrated differentiation approach. While there's a duty on all countries to take climate action, the types of action they take will depend on their differing national circumstances.
  • It has robust and highly ambitious temperature, emissions, adaptation, and finance goals.
  • Their bottom-up method allows parties to provide evidence and proof to support their mitigation and adaptation plans nationally.
  • The accountability is primarily based on transparency instead of any legal bindings.
  • It uses the ratchet system to improve the nationally determined contribution (NDC) over time. NDCs are countries' individual commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions as part of climate change mitigation.

If you’re curious about the progressions for the Paris Agreement and what commitments your country has made, we strongly recommend you look at an internationally recognised qualification such as the IEMA Certificate in Environmental Management. The course takes a deep dive into the Paris Agreement, what commitments were made, and the role of cities, regions, and local authorities. For more information on the core units of the course, look at this blog, which explains all you need to know in one place. 


Why is the Paris Agreement so Important?


The Paris Agreement sets two temperature goals and two emissions goals.

The first temperature goal is to hold "the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels." The second goal is to pursue efforts "to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels."

In addition, the first emissions goal is to “reach global peaking of emissions as soon as possible and to undertake rapid reductions after that". And the second emission goal is to "achieve net zero emissions in the second half of the century.”

Parties that signed the Paris Agreement are legally bound to several obligations. They must prepare and communicate a nationally determined contribution (NDC) every five years and then maintain successive NDCs by capitalising on opportunities with respective domestic settings.

The least developed and small island developing countries have the scope to create tailored plans, strategies, and actions that fit their circumstances.

Market Mechanisms

The Paris Agreement encourages parties to cooperate to reduce their GHG by establishing two voluntary cooperation mechanisms.

The first enables parties to voluntarily transfer mitigation outcomes, sometimes in the form of emissions trading, to achieve their NDCs. Any such emissions trading must be pursued in good faith to promote sustainable development, apply credible GHG accounting rules, and deliver environmental integrity and transparency.

The second establishes an offset mechanism, regulations, and procedures like the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism. The Clean Development Mechanism scheme allows countries to fund greenhouse gas emissions-reducing projects in other countries and claim the saved emissions as part of their own efforts to meet international emissions targets.

Adaptation, Loss and Damage

The Paris Agreement establishes an adaptation provision for countries to set goals to strengthen climate resilience, advance climate adaptive capacity, and minimise risks and vulnerability to climate change. Countries are encouraged to collaborate and use the best available science-based guidance to update their adaptation communication periodically.


The treaty also asks countries to increase green finance flows from the private and public sectors to support climate resilience and low-emission technologies. In turn, they are expected to phase out brown finance flows such as coal-fired power plants. Additionally, the Paris Agreement strongly urges developed countries to provide financial support and resources to assist developing countries.


The Paris Agreement has adopted an "enhanced transparency framework" (ETF). This framework is a guide for countries on reporting their greenhouse gas emissions, progress toward their NDCs, climate change impacts and adaptation, support provided and mobilised, and any support they need or have received. It holds countries accountable for achieving their NDCs and combines parties' self-reporting, technical expert, and peer review approaches to achieve consistency and transparency among the parties.  

The Paris Agreement has largely been a success compared with similar pledges that have come before. It has been a critical regulatory instrument driving a worldwide response to climate change and global warming. Its place in the current climate action cannot be understated, and it will likely continue having an effect for many years. Hopefully, in the future, it will be looked back on as a pivotal turning point for the fight to prevent climate change and protect future generations from the effects of global warming.

To expand your knowledge of the Paris Agreement as well as other treaties and legislation, enrol in our IEMA Certificate in Environmental Management course below.


About the Author 

Enock Ebbah MSc has a wealth of combined experience, having spent 13 years developing and delivering energy, environment and sustainability projects, energy research and responsible engineering. His specialist expertise in strategic NetZero solutions, energy transition, decarbonisation initiatives, and sustainable approaches to using energy, materials, and resources for sustainable development. As an Environment and Sustainability Consultant at Astutis, Enock helps organisations deliver ambitious environment, sustainability, and NetZero outcomes by providing environmental assessments, environmental and sustainability training, ESG materiality assessments, and sustainability reporting and strategy.

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