What is the Paris Agreement? 2015 climate treaty explained, and how it relates to COP26 goals

From 31 October - 12 November, Glasgow will host the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties

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The Paris Agreement was created in 2015 to tackle climate change through covering topics of climate change migration, adaptation and finance.

The overall aim of the COP26 summit is to gather parties together to accelerate the goals agreed within the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

But what is the Paris Agreement? And what are the goals for this year’s climate conference, COP26?

What is the Paris Agreement?

Also known as the Paris Accords or the Paris Climate Accords, the Paris Agreement is an international treaty that was created in Paris, France.

It was adopted in 2015 and was open for signatures from the countries belonging to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 22 April 2016 - Earth day.

This was also known as COP21, as it was the 21st annual session of the Conference of the Parties (COP).

Countries belonging to the UNFCCC are some of the major contributors to the world’s greenhouse gases, so the Paris Agreement was drafted to help combat climate change.

After the European Union (EU) ratified the treaty, enough countries had signed to begin action, and the agreement began from 4 November 2016.

Since October 2021, 192 members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have signed the treaty.

However, major emitters of the world’s greenhouse gases, Iran and Iraq, have not yet signed the Agreement.

The United States (US) withdrew from the agreement after former President Donald Trump announced the US would no longer participate.

However, in 2021, the US rejoined following the election of President Joe Biden at the end of 2020.

The Paris Agreement comes after a previous international treaty to battle the effects of climate change. In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was created to extend the UNFCCC commitment stating countries must reduce greenhouse gasses.

The Kyoto Protocol was formed after the scientific consensus discovered two things; global warming is happening and human-made emissions are causing it.

What are the goals of the Paris Agreement?

The main long-term goal of the Paris Agreement is to reduce the devastating impact of climate change by keeping the rise of the Earth’s temperature below 2℃ - and limiting the increase to 1.5℃.

By the middle of the 21st Century, emissions used by each country must be reduced in order to reach net-zero. This is also known as carbon neutrality where the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted is balanced out by the atmosphere.

To effectively achieve this, the Paris Agreement rules state each country is required to determine, plan and frequently report on its contributions.

Although there is no set agreement on how much each country must reduce their contributions by, each target should go further than their last.

What are the goals of  COP26?

For COP26, a number of goals have been put in place, with the aim of achieving the overall objective set out in the Paris Agreement.

These include:

  • Securing a global net zero by mid-century and keeping 1.5℃ in reach, through accelerating the phase out of coal, reducing deforestation, switching to electric vehicles quicker and encouraging investing in renewable energy sources. 
  • Protect communities and natural habitats through protecting and restoring ecosystems, and building defence and warning systems for infrastructure and agriculture to prevent human and environmental losses. 
  •  Increase finance and mobilise at least $100bn for climate finance by 2020, which has been missed. 

Each country is also being asked to present their ambitious 2030 emissions reduction targets to stay on track to reach net zero by the middle of the century.

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