What is the Paris Agreement?

On 12 December 2015, after more than two decades of tremendous negotiations, the international community finally reached a global agreement to fight climate change and reduce its effects, following the 21st Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris.

It is the first binding global agreement. 

Africa's voice was heard

Africa was heard, thanks mainly to lobbying and negotiating by the African team, supported by the African Development Bank Group (AfDB).  This new agreement takes into account many concerns of African countries:

In article 2, the Paris Agreement expresses the desire to limit global temperature increases to "well below" 2°C, and to 1.5°C by 2100.

Developed nations were also clearly requested to increase their financial aid to developing countries in order to achieve the goal of US $100 billion in financing by 2020.  These calculated investments must be revised upwards in 2025.

The Agreement recognizes and confirms the principle of shared but differentiated responsibility, in particular, according to the level of the country's wealth and its historic responsibility in terms of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.

Adapting to climate change, which is crucial to African countries in particular, is also taken into account alongside mitigation in the new Agreement, so it is therefore more balanced than the Kyoto Protocol, which largely focused on mitigation.  But the challenge of financing adaptation is still a problem.

Finally capacity building was also mentioned, with the creation of an ad hoc committee, along with the transfer of technologies.

On 22 April 2016, during a high-level ceremony at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, no fewer than 175 countries signed the Paris Agreement – a record level of participation!  This international agreement received the largest number of signatures in a single day in the history of the UN.  Forty-seven African nations signed the Paris Agreement on that day.  The Agreement remains open for signatures until 21 April 2017.

However, signing the Agreement is not enough; it must still be ratified.  On the day of the signing at the UN, about fifteen countries, mostly small island nations already seriously threatened by rising sea levels, had already ratified the text.

In September 2016 nine African countries ratified it too.  At the end of October 2016, some 18 countries ratified the agreement, with Mauritius and Somalia having begun the process after April 2016. Other countries include: Algeria, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco (host of COP22), Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, Swaziland and Uganda [for an updated list of the signatory countries and ratifications see the United Nations site here].

A new milestone was reached on 5 October 2016: the threshold for ratifications of the Paris Agreement was met.  To enter into force, the Paris Agreement had to be ratified by at least 55 parties representing at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions.  This was achieved on 5 October 2016 when eleven new countries and parties (including Canada and the European Union) presented their instruments of ratification following the heavyweights of China and the United States a month earlier on 3 September 2016 – between them these two countries represent no less than 38% of global CO2 emissions.

From ratification to implementation

The Paris Agreement must enter into force on 4 November 2014 – thirty days after reaching the threshold of 55 parties and 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions – i.e. three days before the opening of COP22 in Marrakech.

The Paris Agreement is not an end in itself.  It is only the beginning of a wide-ranging program of negotiations and implementation that will be addressed at COP22, as highlighted by African Development Bank’s President, Akinwumi Adesina, when the Paris Agreement was adopted: "There is much more work to be done. Assessments have shown that current commitments in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) will result in global warming of about 3oC. The Agreement includes a pledge to review and strengthen commitments every five years. It’s just the beginning. We need to build on its momentum to ensure that Africa transitions to a low-carbon and climate-resilient development pathway. The will is there. The commitment is there. This window of opportunity will not be open for much longer.  Let us seize it."

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