What is The Paris Agreement? 

Apr 16, 2021by Olivia - F&F

For Earth Day, we thought we’d put together a simple FAQ about the Paris Agreement. We think it's really important to know what's going on in the world and which countries are committing to a greener future. If you're not quite sure what the Paris Agreement is, or have been confused by technical and political jargon, we've tried to break it down in the simplest terms in this blog. 

What is The Paris Agreement?What is The Paris Agreement?

What is The Paris Agreement? 

The Paris Agreement is a landmark global treaty to combat climate change. On December 12, 2015, 197 countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris. The agreement formally came into effect on November 4, 2016. 

The Paris Agreement was created through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and was truly a turning point in climate change negotiations!


What is the purpose of The Paris Agreement?What is the purpose of The Paris Agreement?

What is the purpose of The Paris Agreement? 

The Paris Agreement’s sole purpose is for all Party’s (nations) to substantially reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions

Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750), we’ve been mining and burning fossil fuels to power and grow our societies. When we burn fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, we release CO2 pollution into the atmosphere — this creates the heat-trapping “greenhouse effect”. Other human activities like deforestation, animal agriculture and manufacturing play a major role in our changing climate. 

Over time, these major polluting activities have caused a rapid, unnatural spike in the Earth’s average temperature. Currently, we’re sitting at around 1.1°C of warming above pre-Industrial levels. Already, we’re experiencing more frequent and intense bushfires, floods, cyclones and periods of drought — plus rising sea levels, mass coral bleaching events, biodiversity loss, and extreme heat. 

Goals & Targets of The Paris Agreement

The ultimate target of the Paris Agreement is to keep global temperatures "well below" 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and preferably to 1.5°C. There’s a big difference between 1.5°C and 2°C of global warming. If you have a spare minute, take a look at this graphic by the Climate Council — it highlights the direct impacts of global warming upon our species, land and oceans with each degree of global warming.  

The other key goals within the Paris Agreement are:

  • To review countries’ commitments to cutting emissions every five years through National Determined Contributions (NDCs),
  • To provide climate finance to developing countries to ensure sustainable development and adaptation,
  • To ensure greenhouse gas emissions will peak “as soon as possible”,
  • To ensure wealthy, developed countries “take the lead” in immediately reducing emissions and for developing nations to “enhance their efforts” over time.

Which countries have signed The Paris Agreement?

Nearly every nation on Earth has endorsed The Paris Agreement. 

There are a few countries that are yet to join, namely: Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Libya, Yemen and Eritrea.

The United States, under the leadership of former President Donald Trump, briefly withdrew from The Paris Agreement in November 2020. Thankfully, President Joe Biden rejoined The Paris Agreement on his first day in the Oval Office; positioning the United States to once again be part of the global climate solution. 

The latest countries to ratify The Paris Agreement are: South Sudan, Angola, Kyrgyzstan and Lebanon. 

Is The Paris Agreement legally-binding?Is The Paris Agreement legally-binding?

Is The Paris Agreement legally-binding?

Yes and no. The Paris Agreement is a framework to guide global efforts towards more ambitious climate action. Unlike the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a formal treaty that required legally binding cuts to emissions, the Paris Agreement allows Parties to create their own NDCs every five years. 

Essentially, this creates a continuous loop of global pressure, which creates more transparency, scrutiny, and accountability — for high carbon-emitting nations, there’s really nowhere to hide.

Here’s the legal part in a nutshell: 

  • Each Party shall communicate an NDC every five years,
  • Each Party's successive NDC will represent a progression beyond the Party's then-current NDC, and reflect its highest possible ambition.

Unfortunately, there are no penalties for Party’s that fail to reach their targets.

Australia’s Commitment to The Paris AgreementAustralia’s Commitment to The Paris Agreement

Australia’s Commitment to The Paris Agreement

Recently, Australia has been rightly criticised by the international community for not doing enough to meet the broader targets of the Paris Agreement. 

Australia’s Paris Agreement target is a 26–28% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, below 2005 levels. Currently, most of our emissions come from four areas of the economy: industry, electricity, transport and agriculture. 

To do our fair share on the global stage, we need to effectively triple our emissions reduction target to 75% by 2030 (below 2005 levels) and achieve net-zero emissions by 2035.

Net-zero emissions target - Australia Net-zero emissions target - Australia

Net-zero emissions target

Yet, the Federal Government has shown no intention of updating its Paris Agreement target or adopting a net-zero emissions target. 

Countless other nations have adopted a target of reaching net-zero emissions by around mid-century, including the EU, the UK, the US, China, Japan, South Korea, Canada, New Zealand and more. 

Australia, on the other hand, is at risk of being left behind as one of the few wealthy, developed nations without a net-zero target. However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison is expected to face more pressure ahead of President Joe Biden’s climate summit in the US next week, and in the lead-up to the UN Climate Summit in November, held in Glasgow.

Globally, are we on track to meet the targets of The Paris Agreement?Globally, are we on track to meet the targets of The Paris Agreement?

Globally, are we on track to meet the targets of The Paris Agreement?

Limiting global warming to 1.5°C is still possible, but we’re seriously running out of time. Global emissions must fall rapidly if we are to prevent irreparable damage to our climate.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. We’ve experienced an enormous push in momentum towards climate action recently, especially with the normalisation of the net-zero target. 

We’ve also seen a political shift in the climate change narrative; pushing for climate action and renewable energy isn’t a “green” agenda anymore, it’s just common sense! Even US President Joe Biden won his campaign with a strong plan to cut carbon emissions.


Lastly, we’ve seen the price of renewables (solar and wind) absolutely plummet in recent years, which has stimulated the massive shift towards clean, resilient, renewable energy sources — especially on a state and territory level in Australia! 

Right now, every effort to reduce global emissions is crucial in the fight against climate change. We can’t afford to lose hope in the Paris Agreement! If you liked this blog and want to help fight climate change, make sure to share on your socials, and send to friends and family. Together we can make a difference! 

If you liked this blog, make sure to check out some of our other Eco News blogs: 

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