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Science, Technology, Environment and
The Paris Climate Agreement
entered into force on 4 November 2016. The Paris Agreement is made
under the United
Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Climate Change
Convention, also referred to as the UNFCCC). Australia announced
its ratification of the Paris Agreement on 10 November 2016.
This Quick Guide gives a brief history of negotiations under
the Climate Change Convention, followed by an overview of the Paris
Agreement and Australia’s contribution to the Agreement.
History of international climate
Change Convention was first agreed in 1992, following growing global
concern about climate
change, including the 1990 publication of the First Assessment Report by
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The Convention sets out a framework aimed
at stabilising atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to prevent
‘dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system’. The Climate
Change Convention entered into force in 1994, and now has a near‑universal
membership, with 197 parties having ratified the Convention. Parties to the Convention
including at the annual Conference of the Parties (COP), where they make
decisions to promote the effective implementation of the Convention and adopt other
Protocol is an instrument made under the Climate Change Convention
which was adopted at the third Conference of the Parties (COP 3) in 1997,
although it did not enter into force until 2005.
The Kyoto Protocol obliges some developed countries (known as ‘Annex I
Parties’) to reduce their GHG emissions. The Protocol placed a heavier
burden on developed nations in recognition that they are largely responsible for
high levels of GHG emissions (this is known as the principle of ‘common but differentiated
responsibilities’). Australia signed the Kyoto Protocol in
1998, but did not ratify until 2007. The first ‘commitment’ period of the Kyoto
Protocol ran from 2008 to 2012. Australia met and exceeded its first period Kyoto
Protocol target of 108 per cent of 1990 emissions levels by 2012.
At COP 15 in Copenhagen in 2009, it was hoped a
new legally binding agreement would be reached to follow on from the Kyoto
Protocol. Although that meeting fell short of those expectations,
the Copenhagen Accord did, among other matters, recognise the need to reduce global GHG emissions
so as to limit the increase in global temperature to below 2 °C.
The Doha Amendment, adopted at COP 18 in 2012,
provides for the operation of the Kyoto Protocol to be extended with a
second commitment period that runs until 2020. The Doha Amendment is not
yet in force, having not yet been ratified by a sufficient number of parties,
although Australia has ratified the Amendment. This is discussed
further in the Parliamentary Library’s Quick Guide Australia and the Doha Amendment. In any
case, the Paris Agreement will replace the Kyoto Protocol from
Overview of the Paris
What is the Paris
Agreement trying to achieve?
Agreement aims to ‘strengthen the global
response to the threat of climate change’, and its stated goal, in Article 2 of
the Agreement, is to limit the increase in the global average temperature to
‘well below 2 °C’ above pre‑industrial levels. According to
the Intergovernmental Panel
on Climate Change (IPCC), global warming of more than
2 °C would have serious consequences, such as an increase in the number of
extreme weather events.
The Paris Agreement also states, for the first time
in an international climate agreement, that we should ‘pursue efforts’ to limit
the temperature increase to 1.5 °C (Article 2). In Paris, the IPCC was asked to
provide a new special report in
2018 (known as SR1.5) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above
pre-industrial levels. In addition, parties are aiming to peak global greenhouse
gas emissions ‘as soon as possible’ (Article 4).
While the Paris Agreement was welcomed
as an important breakthrough in international climate negotiations, some climate scientists have criticised it,
suggesting that it is too weak and will not meet its aim of limiting global
warming to 2 °C.
In the lead up to the Paris COP, parties submitted Intended Nationally
Determined Contributions (INDCs), which set out each country’s plan for
addressing climate change, including a target for reducing GHG emissions, and
how the countries intend to achieve that target. Many INDCs also included an
‘adaptation component’, outlining how a country plans to deal with the impacts
of climate change. Around 165
parties have submitted INDCs.
This process was quite different to the Kyoto Protocol,
under which only developed countries had emissions reduction targets, determined through a lengthy negotiation process. Instead, the Paris
Agreement provides flexibility for parties to propose their own targets.
Under the Paris Agreement, these INDCs have become ‘NDCs’ (dropping
the ‘intended’). Under Article 4 of the Paris Agreement, NDCs will be
reviewed and updated every five years, with the idea being that updated NDCs will
represent a progression on the previous contribution and ‘reflect the highest
possible ambition’. This has been referred to as the ‘ratchet
mechanism’ or the ‘ambition
mechanism’. Parties will also be required to report regularly on emissions
and progress towards their NDCs under the ‘transparency framework’ (see Article
13). This has
been described as the ‘backbone’ of the Paris Agreement.
In November 2015, the UNFCCC released a synthesis
report on the total effect of the submitted INDCs.
This report concluded that INDCs are expected to deliver sizeable emission
reductions and slow down GHG emissions growth in the coming decade, but would
not be sufficient to reverse the upward trend of global emissions by 2025 and
2030. An updated synthesis report, published in May
2016, concluded that ‘much greater emission reduction efforts than those
associated with the INDCs will be required in the period after 2025 and 2030 to
hold the temperature rise below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels’.
Other aspects of the Agreement
Other key aspects of the Paris Agreement include:
change adaptation and resilience (that is, dealing with the impacts of a
changing climate) also feature in the Paris Agreement and in the INDCs
of many countries
finance: Article 9.1 of the Paris Agreement states that developed
country parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country parties
with both their mitigation and adaptation efforts. Article 9.2 encourages all
parties to provide financial support voluntarily, regardless of their economic
circumstances. The Green Climate
Fund, established in 2010 under the UNFCCC, will play an important role in
relation to this aspect of the Paris Agreement
- a new ‘Paris Committee on Capacity Building’ (PCCB), designed
to help ensure that all countries—particularly developing countries—can meet
their commitments under the Paris Agreement. The committee’s terms of
reference were adopted at COP 22 in Marrakech in 2016 and
- a mechanism to ‘promote compliance’ (see Article 15), which will
operate in a ‘non-adversarial and non‑punitive’ manner, although the full
details of this mechanism are still to be worked out.
Ratification of the Paris Agreement
The Paris Agreement provides that it will
come into force 30 days after at least 55 parties that make up at least 55 per
cent of global emissions have ratified the Agreement. This threshold was
reached on 5 October 2016, meaning that the Paris Agreement entered
into force on 4 November 2016 (just before COP 22 in Marrakech).
The Paris Agreement has now been ratified by 169 parties, including China, India, the European Union and New Zealand.
The United States (US) ratified the Agreement but, in August 2017, notified
the United Nations of its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement ‘as soon as it is eligible to do so’. Under Article 28 of the Paris
Agreement, the US must stay in the Agreement until November 2020. The US will, however, continue to participate in COP meetings under the
In Australia, the Paris Agreement was tabled
in Federal Parliament on 31 August 2016, along with a National
Interest Analysis. Following consideration
by the Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, which
recommended that Australia ratify the Agreement, Australia announced
its ratification of the Paris Agreement on 10 November 2016.
What happens next?
There are still many details relating to the implementation
of the Paris Agreement to be agreed, and some of this detail is
currently being discussed in Bonn at COP 23.
During this and future COPs, parties will continue preparations for entry into
force of the Paris Agreement by 2020. In particular, parties are now in
the process of developing the detailed rules, processes and guidelines associated
with the implementation of the Agreement, known as the Paris Agreement
‘rule book’, which is expected to be completed by 2018. This includes, in
particular, the rules for measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions (or
GHG accounting rules), with the exact requirements negotiated by 2018 and
adopted in 2020.
A number of other key timeframes have already been agreed.
- a ‘facilitative dialogue’ in 2018, which will review parties’
collective efforts towards the Paris Agreement’s goals (see paragraph 20
of the COP
decision adopting the Paris Agreement)
- a requirement for parties to submit new or updated NDCs by 2020, depending
on their current mitigation target timeframe. Countries with a mitigation
target timeframe of 2025 will need to submit a new NDC. Parties with a
mitigation target timeframe of 2030 (such as Australia) need to ‘communicate or
update’ their NDC. As noted earlier, parties will then be required to update
their NDCs every five years under the ‘ratchet mechanism’ and
- a ‘global
stocktake’ in 2023 to assess collective progress towards the goal of
keeping the increase in global average temperature to within 2 °C (see Article
14). This global stocktake will then reoccur every five years. These stocktakes
are intended to inform parties in updating and enhancing their NDCs.
What is Australia’s contribution?
INDC states that Australia will ‘implement an economy-wide target to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030’. Comparing targets between member countries is
complicated by the use of different baseline years as well as different
target years. For example, in comparison:
Australia’s 2030 emissions reduction target
has been described by some as less ambitious than that of most developed
nations. Climate Action Tracker, an independent scientific
analysis produced by four international research organisations, has rated
Australia’s target as ‘insufficient’, while Australia’s
own Climate Change Authority recommended in 2015
that Australia should have a target of a 30% reduction from 2000 emissions
levels by 2025 and further reductions by 2030 of 40–60% below 2000 levels. However,
the Australian Government maintains that ‘our
target is a fair contribution for Australia’ and argues that it exceeds those
of other countries on a per capita basis as well as in terms of emissions
Can Australia meet its
There has been some debate as to whether
Australia’s current policies are sufficient to achieve our Paris target.
Organisations such as the Climate Institute, the Grattan Institute, and the Federal Government’s
Climate Change Authority consider that
achieving the Paris target will require a strengthened policy framework. Others
suggest Australia will ‘comfortably’ meet the
2030 target, as a result of state renewable energy schemes.
However, the Australian Government considers
that Australia will meet its 2030 target ‘through policies built on its
proven Direct Action approach’. These policies include
the Emissions Reduction Fund and its associated Safeguard Mechanism, as well as a number of
other policies designed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and increase
energy productivity. Figure 1 below shows the key relevant policies and
the amount of emissions reduction that the Government considers can potentially
be achieved by these policies, relative to Australia’s 2030 target. At the same
time, the Government is also currently conducting a review of Australia’s climate change policies, to ‘take stock of Australia’s progress in reducing emissions, and to ensure
the Government’s policies remain effective in achieving Australia’s 2030 target
and Paris Agreement commitments’. The review will also look at a potential
long-term emissions reduction goal beyond 2030. A discussion paper has been released for public
comment and the review will conclude by the end of 2017.
Figure 1: Australia’s climate policies and
their degree of greenhouse gas abatement
Source: Department of the Environment, The Australian Government’s action on climate
Table 1: Reference list
of relevant international agreements
For multilateral treaties, signature alone is usually not enough and
‘ratification’ or ‘accession’ is required for countries to be legally bound.
Even then, a treaty usually does not come into force until a certain number of
ratifications have been received, depending on the terms of the treaty.
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