Research Director, Energy, Environment and Resources
Shane Tomlinson
Former Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Environment and Resources

Inevitably, the compromises of the Paris Agreement make it both a huge achievement and an imperfect solution to the problem of global climate change.

The slogan '1.5 Degrees' is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on 11 December 2015 in Paris, France. Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images.The slogan '1.5 Degrees' is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) on 11 December 2015 in Paris, France. Photo by Getty Images.

Summary

  • The Paris Agreement, reached at COP21, was a triumph of diplomacy. The deal can be characterized as: flexible, combining a ‘hard’ legal shell and a ‘soft’ enforcement mechanism; inclusive, as it was adopted by all 196 parties to the UNFCCC and is therefore the first truly global climate deal; messy, as the bottom-up process of creating nationally determined contributions means the system is unstandardized; non-additive, as the contributions do not currently deliver the agreement’s stated long-term goal of keeping the rise in global average temperature to ‘well below 2˚C’; and dynamic, as the deal establishes a ratchet mechanism that requires more ambitious contributions every five years.
  • The next five years are critical for keeping the below 2˚C goal within reach. A ‘facilitative dialogue’ starting in 2018 will give states the opportunity to revisit their contributions in advance of the agreement entering into force in 2020. International forums, such as the G7 and G20, can play a crucial role in kickstarting these efforts.
  • The ‘coalitions of the willing’ and clubs that were launched under the Lima-Paris Action Agenda provide an innovative space for state and non-state actors to unlock transformational change. However, it is important that these groups set specific and measurable targets to ensure effective delivery of objectives.
  • The post-Paris regime implies a significant role for civil society organizations. However, in many countries the ‘safe operating space’ both for these organizations and for the media is shrinking. Expanding the capacity of civil society and the media in areas such as communications, litigation, project implementation and technical expertise will be important if they are to support the regime effectively.