Daily Archives: November 3, 2022

Gender Justice, LGBTQ+ Justice, and Climate Justice: How Climate Change Impacts Marginalized Communities

By Student Delegate Hope McLellan-Brandt

Climate change disproportionately affects populations that “are most reliant on natural resources for their livelihoods and/or who have the least capacity to respond to natural hazards, such as droughts, landslides, floods and hurricanes.”[1] This blog post will discuss how women and LGBTQ+ community members are uniquely affected by climate change as historically burdened groups, and how climate plans can be more inclusive of these underrepresented communities.

Globally, women are more likely to live in poverty and less likely to be a part of important decision-making that would allow them to “[contribute] to climate-related planning, policy-making and implementation.”[2] Women, moreover, are less equipped to adapt to the climate crisis because they have unequal access to important tools, such as land (only 15% of landholders in the world are women[3]) and natural resources.[4] These factors limit the ability of women to protect themselves from climate disasters and participate in the political process. And yet, the active participation and voices of women are essential to the fight for climate justice. Climate justice and gender equality, like many other facets of the fight for equality and justice, are interrelated. Since the Paris Agreement in 2015, there has been a call for women to be more central to the decision-making on climate change because women often have specialized knowledge regarding “resource management and/or leading sustainable practices at the household and community level.”[5]

LGBTQ+ individuals are also likely to be disproportionately affected by climate change. Particularly, LGBTQ+ individuals aged 18–25 face a 2.2 times greater risk of homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ persons.[6] Transgender individuals are more likely to be unsheltered due to discrimination at shelters.[7] And, in the face of disaster, LGBTQ+ people are less likely to receive aid due to discrimination, which is still prohibited in the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.[8] Much like women, LGBTQ+ voices are stifled in the climate change debate, despite the hurdles that inevitably affect the LGBTQ+ community in unique ways.[9] LGBTQ+ voices are necessary now more than ever to mitigate the disastrous effects of climate change on the LGBTQ+ community, and to help ensure that no individual is denied life-saving climate relief due to their identity.

This summer, there was an outcry by environmental justice activist and White House advisor Jerome Foster and his partner Elijah Mckenzie-Jackson regarding the choice of Egypt to host COP27.[10] Egypt has not explicitly banned same-sex relationships, but according to an article from the Guardian, Egypt has “used laws designed to protect against public debauchery to harass, arrest, imprison and even torture LGBTQ people.”[11] Other individuals have reported that Egyptian security forces drag people from the streets based on their gender expression and entrap individuals on dating apps and social media.[12] This raises concerns about the ability of LGBTQ+ voices to be safely heard at COP27, and the safety of LGBTQ+ persons in Egypt at large. Their letter to the United Nations can be found here.

Overall, women and LGBTQ+ individuals have significant stake in climate negotiations but remain largely unrepresented due to discrimination and lack of access to important decision-making. COP27 stands in a position to alleviate those burdens, but the voices of women and LGBTQ+ persons, particularly those belonging to other marginalized communities, need to be amplified to enact change. Liberation and inclusion of gender-marginalized individuals has the capacity to create rich and effective resolutions that actually go to the heart of what the community needs, creating a more just and equitable fight for climate change.

[1] United Nations: Climate Change, Introduction to Gender and Climate Change, UNFCCC, https://unfccc.int/gender (last visited Oct. 16, 2022).

[2] Id.

[3] Sima Bahous, Under-Secretary-General, United Nations, Global Land Forum: Women’s Land Rights are Intrinsically and Vitally Linked to Gender Equality (May 24, 2022).

[4] Fabiano De Andrade Correa, Gender Equality: A Cornerstone for Environmental and Climate Justice, UNDP (Mar. 29, 2022), https://www.undp.org/blog/gender-equality-cornerstone-environmental-and-climate-justice (last visited Oct. 16, 2022).

[5] United Nations: Climate Change, supra note 1.

[6] Mikyla Reta, How Environmental and Climate Injustice Affects the LGBTQI+ Community, CAP (June 16, 2022), https://www.americanprogress.org/article/how-environmental-and-climate-injustice-affects-the-lgbtqi-community/ (last visited Oct. 16, 2022).

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See Anuj Behal, How Climate Change is Affecting the LGBTQIA+ Community, DownToEarth (Jan. 11, 2021), https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/environment/how-climate-change-is-affecting-the-lgbtqia-community-74988 (last visited Oct. 27, 2022) (discussing the disproportionate effects of climate change on the LGBTQIA+ community, stating “LGBTQIA+ individuals are uniquely vulnerable to exclusion, violence and exploitation because of the cumulative impacts of social stigma, discrimination and hatred. The social stigma around the LGBTQIA+ community also makes several social opportunities and infrastructure unavailable to them.”).

[10] Oliver Milman, UN Urged to Move COP From Egypt over ‘LGBTQ+ Torture’, Guardian (July 15, 2022), https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/jul/15/un-cop27-egypt-lgbtq-climate-crisis (last visited Oct. 16, 2022).

[11] Id.

[12] Human Rights Watch, Egypt: Security Forces Abuse, Torture LGBT People, HRW (Oct. 1, 2020, 12:00 AM), https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/10/01/egypt-security-forces-abuse-torture-lgbt-people (last visited Oct. 16, 2022).

Climate Change and Intergenerational Equity

By Student Delegate Katie Bernhardt

As early as 1979, countries met at the First World Climate Conference to discuss potential effects of conservation on future generations. Since then, meetings like the Conference of the Parties (COP) have focused on how to best approach this synchronic versus diachronic balancing act. Synchronic concerns refer to “concerns relating to… how resources are distributed between living generations,” and diachronic equity refers to “saving resources for future generations.” It’s important to recognize the bigger picture and discuss why countries even address the issue of a balancing act: the simple fact is, it is important to weigh synchronic concerns against diachronic equity because there simply are not enough resources to sustain life. It is imperative that countries balance resource distribution because while some countries have access to numerous natural resources, not all are living in abundance. Some countries have the luxury of choosing whether they spend their resources now, or save them for future generations, while other countries must make the hard decision to use what little resources they have now and effectively starve future generations. This is why intergenerational equity is crucial to the climate discussion.

Intergenerational equity, in a climate change context, refers to the idea that current generations must tailor how they interact with Earth’s natural resources to accommodate future generations. UNICEF describes intergenerational equity as the notion “that present generations have certain duties towards future generations.” It’s all about balance. The United Nations is a prime example of a governing body that recognizes intergenerational equity as a climate concern. The United Nations describes the goal of intergenerational equity as a need to “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind.” The goal is not to underuse natural resources, starving their people of a decent quality of life in order to leave ample resources for future generations; rather, the goal is to not overuse natural resources, leaving future generations to fend for themselves so we could overindulge and live in abundance. No one country should over- or under-use natural resources, but rather use what is necessary to sustain a population’s life, while safeguarding natural resources for future generations. However, it is important to remember that climate change makes this balance a bit more difficult to achieve.

Climate change has a detrimental effect on natural resources writ large, so simply sequestering natural resources for future generations’ use becomes a lot more difficult when these resources are being reduced in the present day due to climate impacts. As an abstract example, even if a country does its best to stay away from biofuels by not cutting down trees, particularly violent tropical storms brought about by climate change might still knock those trees down, decimating forests. Thus, even though the people were responsible by not reaping the natural resources, they still lost out on that particular resource because the effects of climate change ruined that opportunity for them. Therefore, intergenerational equity is about more than just safeguarding resources: it is about safeguarding them human-driven overuse, and from the effects of climate change.

This balancing idea was further developed by Dr. Edith Brown Weiss, a professor at Georgetown Law and author of Climate Change, Intergenerational Equity, and International Law. Dr. Weiss divided intergenerational equity into three interlocking parts: options, quality, and access.

The first principle—options—refers to how current generations should use just enough natural resources to ensure future generations have options in which resources they can use. However, the question of what counts as “just enough” is a lot harder to understand. “Just enough” means different things to different countries. For one country, “just enough” means “use what we have to maintain our quality of life.” For others, “just enough” means “use what we have to allow plenty of room for future generations, while conceding to a lower quality of life today.” To put it in simple, quantifiable terms, if present generations have access to, say, ten natural resources, but then completely deplete six of them, we have left the next generation with only four natural resources to harness, thus robbing those future generations of their options.

The second principle—quality—refers to preserving Earth’s resources as they are passed from one generation to the next. If, for example, current generations do not deplete the number of bodies of water, but do pollute them to the point where those waters are no longer able to sustain life, then we have robbed future generations of the quality of their natural resources. However, what makes this even more difficult is the fact that resource utilization does not account for the net impact humans have on the environment beyond what is utilized. Even if future generations had all the water past generations had, that water may have become unpotable and toxic to marine life.

Finally, the third principle—access—refers to factors like economic gatekeeping. Put simply, what is best for the economy might not be what is best for individuals writ large. It benefits one country to be able to have sole ownership of one resource and be able to profit from selling those resources, or access to resources, to others, but that then puts those other countries at a significant disadvantage. What use is having an abundance of oil fields if only the top one percent of producer countries can afford to drill them? If it is profitable for one country to own all the potable water in a region, and they charge high rates for others to access that drinking water, then that defeats the purpose of equitable access to resources.

While the three principles are important to consider in how people interact with global changes, I believe one stands out as the linchpin that makes the other two possible: options. If current generations do not have options in which natural resources they can benefit from, and they do nothing to revive those options, then future generations will have even fewer options  For instance, future generations cannot compare the quality of their rainforests to past generations’ rainforests if all the rainforests are gone. Similarly, if current generations do not leave an ample supply of Earth’s resources, the question of who gets access to those resources will not matter if prior generations depleted them all. Ensuring future generations have all the opportunities (i.e., “options”) we had will lay the groundwork for equity. However, some studies suggest getting others to care about the first tenant of intergenerational equity will pose a challenge.

Researchers Diprose et al conducted a survey on urban peoples’ opinions on conservation. The researchers found that people living in Nanjing, China, and Sheffield, UK, were more inclined to contemplate how natural resources could benefit them, their kids, and their grandkids, but were hesitant to look any further. Those surveyed did not think it their responsibility to project that far into the future.

Intergenerational equity is not merely a talking point: it is a lens through which all climate responses and decisions should be evaluated. Even though Dr. Weiss refers to the second tenant of intergenerational equity as “options,” when read aloud, the definition of options sounds strikingly similar to the definition of a word most people are much more familiar with: “conservation.” We need to create a path forward where global communities, living and future, are considered through a lens of conservation. We must be cognizant of the effect humans have on when, how, and how much we take from the environment, as well as be cognizant of the irreparable harm we have already done. This, of course, starts by ensuring present and future generations have Weiss’ second tenant of intergenerational equity: “options.” Future generations need as many options at their fingertips as possible, allowing them the opportunity to tailor those options to their specific needs. Without options, communities face suboptimal paths forward, much to their and everyone else’s detriment. Without diversified options, communities will continue to use up what little resources they have left, leading to a drained future where people attempt to make a living on a depleted planet.

More, Better, Faster: Climate Finance at COP27 and Beyond

By Student Delegate Logan Keen

The uncertainties surrounding climate finance—who pays for the impacts of climate change, how much they ought to pay, and what that money ought to be used for—remain among the most important questions on the table as the world approaches the COP27 summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. In a key decision accompanying the momentous 2015 Paris Agreement, parties committed to answering these questions by determining a new collective quantified goal (NCQG) for climate finance before 2025 that considers the “needs and priorities of developing countries,” and with a “floor of USD 100 billion per year.” Conceptually, the NCQG must be both collective and quantified, meaning that all parties must agree on the terms and that those terms be finite and tangible.

At COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, delegates formed an ad hoc work program to kick-start deliberations on the NCQG, to run until COP29 in 2024. The program includes four technical expert dialogues per year and is led by one chair from a developed country and one from a developing country, both of whom will collaborate annually to produce a report on the program’s progress. Paragraph 15 of the decision declares the aim of the NCQG is to accelerate the achievement of Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, and paragraph 16 states that development of the NCQG shall take into account the needs and priorities of developing countries, in line with the Paris Agreement and decision 14/CMA.1.

As part of the 2009 Copenhagen Accord, developed countries committed to “mobiliz[ing]” $100 billion per year by 2020 to help developing countries improve their sustainability in anticipation of worsening climate change effects. At the time, the U.S. wanted India and China—two fast-growing countries with increasing emissions but hundreds of millions of people still living in poverty—to join the $100B pledge, but the two nations balked at the idea of joining what they viewed as a pact among rich nations. Since that promise, donor countries have collectively failed to meet that target, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s most recent estimate for contributions adds up to USD $83 billion.

With these commitments in the background, the goals of developed countries during the ad hoc work program will likely prioritize avoiding direct accountability for loss and damage. Based on the United States’ and other developed nations’ collective refusal at COP26 to support a proposed financing mechanism for loss and damage, however, the future of climate finance under the NCQG remains murky. One concern was that the proposal would mandate de facto climate reparations from historically significant contributors to emissions, as opposed to all the current major emitters, such as China; another was that it would open up developed countries to binding obligations or never-ending streams of litigation.

Holding China, India, South Africa, and Brazil—collectively the ‘BASIC’ negotiating bloc—equally accountable for their ongoing emissions remains another priority for developed nations. The U.S. and other rich nations likely considered the Paris Agreement’s abandonment of the bifurcated UNFCCC Annexation model (“developed” and “developing”) to be a win, but in many senses, there remains a dichotomy between historically wealthy countries like the US and emerging ones like China and India. Expanding the “donor base,” though, would relieve developed countries of at least some of their expected contributions. The issue of how to sort countries into those who pay and those who do not, then, seems certain to play a major role in climate finance discussions at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Another sticking point may well be the structure of the NCQG itself, including whether to set separate goals for financing in various areas such as mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage. The Glasgow Pact includes a commitment to double adaptation finance for developing countries by 2025, reflecting a recognition of the need to accelerate adaptation. To date, climate finance has primarily supported mitigation efforts—aimed at lessening the severity of climate change by reducing GHG emissions—rather than on adaptation financing aimed at preparing for the unavoidable effects of climate change.

Determining which types of financial commitments qualify as climate finance under the NCQG will also be a key issue, raising the question of whether all climate finance should be considered equally or whether there should be a meaningful distinction between grants and loans. For developed countries, there is obvious incentive to count all forms of aid as climate finance; it makes it easier to reach the current $100B goal, along with any future mandates, if loans count the same as grants. Developing countries, many of whom suffer from high debt burdens already, are often reluctant to take on more debt, and thus overwhelmingly prefer grants to loans. Thus, a top priority for them will be to distinguish loans from grants when actually defining climate finance.

Meanwhile, the tangible repercussions of the failure by developed countries to help developing countries adapt become more prominent each year, exemplified by the devastating floods in Pakistan earlier this year; thus, the debate intensifies. It remains to be seen whether and how the wealthy nations will accept responsibility for the effects of having produced the lion’s share of historical emissions. What is certain is that the central issues of climate finance—who pays, how much, and for what?—promise to be points of contention at COP27 and potentially beyond.

Key Priorities and Perspectives of Developing Countries as Parties Work to Establish a NCQG for the Climate Finance

By Student Delegate Jiayu Deng 

What is NCQG?

At COP21 in Paris, Parties decided to set a new collective quantified goal (NCQG) before 2025. Taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries, this new NCQC has a floor of $100 billion per year. Parties implemented an ad hoc work program from 2022 to 2024, to be facilitated by two co-chairs: one from a developed country, and one from a developing country. To inform the work program, the co-chairs must maintain regular consultations with the constituted bodies (the Standing Committee on Finance in particular), as well as United Nations agencies, climate finance experts, academia, and private sector and civil society actors.

NCQG, also known as the “post 2025 climate financing goal,” promotes consensus by holding four technical expert dialogues every year. The third technical expert dialogue, which was held in September 2022, focused on the needs and priorities of developing countries and the roles of public and private actors in the NCQG, as well as sources and instruments. NCQG discussion and consensus-building is meant to promote the Paris Agreement’s long-term goals and rebuild the confidence of all parties on the effectiveness and utility of negotiations on climate finance.

Why does NCQG matter

Climate finance is an important ingredient in meeting the climate goals of the Paris Agreement for both developed and developing countries, even though their needs and priorities are different. Some developing countries are projected to grow their population, economy, and energy demand significantly, and will face the challenge of seeking to reduce emissions while bringing electricity and improved quality of life to a growing population. If they can achieve clean development, developing countries can help curb climate change. But if they cannot, they may greatly accelerate climate change. To promote efficient, equitable, and efficient climate finance, it is necessary and important to take the needs and priorities of developing countries into account in the agenda and implementation of NCQG.

An October 2021 report issued by the Standing Committee on Finance (SCF) shows that by 2030, developing countries will need almost $6 trillion to fund the actions listed in their National Determined Contributions (NDCs). This is the first report that attempts to quantify the needs of developing country Parties related to implementing the Convention and the Paris Agreement.

Four key priorities

Investment in the following areas is crucial for developing countries and requires strong financial support, although relative demand varies from country to country:

  • Investment related to supporting energy structure transformation and sustainable development. Developing countries, such as Brazil, South Africa, India and China, are expected to continue rapid growth in population, economic and energy demand. Maintaining healthy and sustainable development remains the most important priority for many developing countries. However, if growth follows the “old path” of developed countries, the climate will suffer immensely. Low-carbon and sustainable development is crucial to future global emissions. If developing countries can go on a clean road, they can increase the momentum for achieving the 1.5-Degree goal of the Paris Agreement.
  • Increased investment in climate change adaptation and resilience, and reduced damage particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The current investment in climate change disproportionately favors mitigation efforts over adaptation. In SIDS, geographical proximity of human settlements to the ocean makes them extremely vulnerable to climate change-related disasters, such as sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and tropical cyclones. According to a recent report, 15% of the primary income from SIDS go to debt-servicing. Climate change and climate disasters will devastate the debt sustainability and credit ratings of SIDS. Scale economies favored by large international investors are difficult to achieve in Whether such countries can develop further is not as pressing a concern as how they can survive in their homeland given the adverse effects of climate change. Therefore, it is necessary to seek economic, technical, and capacity-building support and grants for SIDS.
  • Increased investment in natural capital and biodiversity restoration. Beyond low-carbon industrial transformation and enhanced climate adaptation, stronger climate resilience and biodiversity protection remain a strong path to achieving climate goals. By reforming land management practices (e.g., agriculture and forestry) we can protect global food security, improve landscape productivity and increase natural carbon storage capacity. Countries with rich natural resources have great potential to contribute should be given support to increase the global carbon storage capacity.
  • Quantifying current needs and priorities. Due to the lack of data and limited capacity, many countries have been unable to provide a precise estimate of climate finance needs. So, the overall figures of actual funding requirements may greatly exceed current estimates. Estimating the financial requirements for climate adaptation is also a big challenge given that different accounting methods may lead to different results. It is necessary to reach a consensus on the calculation method so as to provide sufficient information for NCQG’s deliberations and negotiations.

In order for an NCQG framework to actually work for developing countries, there are also some thorny issues that require developing countries’ attention. They focus more on the implementation level, such as:

  • How to mobilize adequate funds after an agreement is made at COP? The next question is where does the money come from? In 2020, developed countries only committed $80 billion of the $100 billion promised to developing countries each year. Roughly $20 billion was provided to Africa in the entire 2016–2019 period, a far cry from the African Negotiators’ Group request for $1.3 trillion a year in climate finance to be made available from 2025, using the solution of debt-for-climate to tackle Africa’s debt constraints.
  • How to ensure developing countries can access climate finance funding? This question concerns fair distribution of funds. Different climate funds have different application requirements, and some application documents, processes and payment operations are highly complex. Methods that simplify procedures and speed up the flow of funds would be helpful. Such methods could include permitting reasonable access to complex reviews, simplifying the access model for small-scale activities, and supporting the capacity development of bank guaranteed projects.
  • How to assess whether funds are adequate for the needs and priorities of developing countries? The needs and priorities of developing countries will change over time. How does the NCQG framework effectively respond to regular and dynamic adjustment of the demand? And how to embed a reasonable evaluation mechanism given the reality of dynamic adjustment?
  • How to comply with the important principles of the Paris Agreement and promote inclusiveness in the process of climate financing? The core of this issue is how NCQG enables governments at all levels, local communities, indigenous people, and non-state entities to access climate finance in an equitable way.

Although developing countries share a common goal, they have varying priorities, which embody their current needs and the major challenges they face in coping with climate change. To meet these challenges, developing countries must promote domestic resource mobilization and international support to provide funds for the required “transformation.” Otherwise, developing countries will struggle to achieve the objectives of their NDCs, further risking achievement of the 1.5Degree target.

Loss and Damage: The Critical Next Step in Global Climate Action

By Student Delegate Rebecca Kimmel

The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) brings together the countries of the world to discuss and implement goals for global climate action. Gathering over 200 country representatives in the same room, though, consistently proves easier than uniting them in mindset.

Annual agenda items include adaptation and mitigation measures, as well as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs, put forward by each country outlining their individual climate commitments. A new addition to COP conversations is the concept of loss and damage.

COP19 was the first to introduce this notion in the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. The concept highlights the loss and damage arising from the adverse effects of climate change, from extreme weather events to rising sea levels and temperatures, particularly for countries most vulnerable to climate impacts.

As we watch the global environment continue to unravel around us, loss and damage becomes an increasingly necessary addition to the COP’s formal agenda. Egypt, the host country for this year’s COP, has stated its planned efforts to “include compensation for economic losses due to climate catastrophes on the formal agenda.”

As loss and damage dialogue has evolved, the spotlight has turned towards the wealthy and developed countries, who are also historically the highest emitters. In a show of resolve based in necessity, developing and small island nations are directing that spotlight.

“We deserve to live without the looming fear of debt and destruction. Our islands are bearing the heaviest burden of a crisis we did not cause,” said Walton Webson, ambassador to the UN and chair of the Alliance of Small Island States negotiating bloc, ahead of a recent UN General Assembly meeting.

A recent IIED report found that the world’s 46 least developed countries are most at risk of climate-related loss and damage, with Burundi, Somalia and Mozambique in the lead. Lower GDP correlates with higher risk of climate impact. This is why these countries, historically among the lowest emitters, are victims of a crisis they didn’t create. And as such, those countries are demanding compensation from the world’s richest nations, the U.S. among them.

A group of vulnerable nations prepared a paper for discussion at the most recent UN General Assembly demanding urgent financial assistance for loss and damage.

The financial aid these countries propose would come from what they call a “climate-related and justice-based” global tax, whose revenue would flow to the developing world. The options for just what this tax might look like are as varied as they are creative: a global carbon tax, a tax on airline travel, a levy on fuels used by ships, fossil fuel extraction taxes, or a tax on financial transactions. This aid could fund things like infrastructure replacement, construction, and mitigation efforts to help stem future climate impacts.

At first blush, loss and damage may seem economically driven, but one need not look too hard to realize this issue is teeming with human-centered losses, too. One urgent example is displacement. The United Nations Human Rights Committee recently acknowledged the legal protection of “people seeking refuge due to the adverse effects of climate change,” those known as climate refugees.

Island nation dwellers are burdened by the fear that they may be one natural disaster away from becoming climate refugees themselves, forced to leave home in search of safer lands. And where would they go? This is another question the Alliance of Small Island States believes developed countries must answer.

At COP26, just last year, wealthy countries did agree that a framework for loss and damage should exist. This agreement, though, came absent any plan for how it would be funded or who would contribute and was never included in the final agreement produced – the Glasgow Climate Pact.

And look how much has changed in a year: a world very energy-dependent on a volatile political situation in Russia now fears for a winter without energy enough to heat the homes of its people.

What were once non-committal but at least amenable developed countries may reappear at COP27 as self-motivated nations in crisis, looking to meet their domestic needs first.

Climate change, though, pays no mind to the game of international politics or the antics of current events. Seas will continue reclaiming the coasts of island nations and natural disasters will keep leaving developing countries in upheaval. It’s time for developed countries to open not only their wallets but also their borders to the communities most vulnerable to the chaos they have overwhelmingly created.

So, though loss and damage should be permanently added to the COP agenda, the road to get there is inevitably detoured by many looming questions.

Will the Russian invasion of Ukraine and its effect on energy security influence what is expected to be an otherwise uneventful COP?

Will the ongoing devastation from climate disasters – like the flooding in Pakistan and heatwaves experienced by countries in all corners of the world – affect the urgency of the small island nations’ negotiations?

Will another year, full of all the climate change consequences scientists have been warning us about, influence the way developed countries consider their role in loss and damage solutions?

With the parties to COP convening on a continent so vulnerable to climate impacts, there seems no more fitting a time to establish concrete measures to address loss and damage.

Is Climate Justice Possible in the COP Process?

By Student Delegate Megna Murali

Deep-rooted, systemic discrimination, in addition to climate change displacement, has rendered several countries vulnerable to disproportionate burdens. [1] Countries that have historically contributed significantly to global emission levels do not generally experience the destructive impacts that more vulnerable countries face. As the severity of the global climate crisis increases, a movement for climate justice is emerging at the intersection of civil rights and ecological equity. Distributive justice is a recurring challenge during negotiations due to the inequitable distribution of historical emissions, climate vulnerability, adaptation, mitigation, and emergency response capacity.

In discussions about climate change, decision makers often measure loss and damage at the international and national level even when losses are felt more acutely locally. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction defines disaster as any “serious disruption of the functioning of a community or society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts, which exceeds the ability of the affected community or society to cope with using its own resources. [2] Responding to climate change requires a collaborative effort to support these communities that are unable to independently respond to the increasing frequency and intensity of climate change impacts.

Hybrid Approach

The Paris Agreement reflects a “hybrid” approach, blending bottom-up flexibility with top-down rules. This bottom-up flexibility provides a temperature metric to assess “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs), promotes accountability, and encourages participation. The NDCs provide extensive reporting and monitoring to verify whether countries are reaching their commitments. These commitments are not contractual or obligated and are simply voluntary technical agreements to create more interaction and collaboration between countries.  The partnerships encourage collaborative accountability in terms of transparency, monitoring mechanisms, and representation of stakeholders.

The hybrid approach does not, however, create any sort of enforcement structure if these commitments are not met. Without any specific enforcement measures, it is difficult to push countries to achieve their commitments. The Paris Agreement allows parties to determine their ‘fair share’ contribution and commitments. While the partnerships may encourage accountability, transparency, and participation, the hybrid approach does not necessarily address the obstacles that more vulnerable countries endure. Certain countries are not able to set such commitments due to their limited resources yet experience the most intense impacts of climate change and require more support. Developed countries have been responsible for a higher level of emissions yet often do not experience the intense climate-related impacts more vulnerable countries do, There is a global inequality between countries in terms of exposure to climate change impacts and emission contribution.

While the hybrid approach provides a quantified global goal, reaching this goal relies on how countries approach equitably distributing responsibility. Countries follow different equity approaches applied under different thresholds, and the absence of an agreement might excuse such inaction. While the impacts of climate change continue to grow more severe and unpredictable, the hybrid approach does not address the immediate challenges that more vulnerable countries face.

Loss and Damage

Loss is felt most acutely, and damage is most destabilizing, at the community and individual level, as survivors seek to bring together a fragmented community or find meaning in the absence of loved ones.  The fragmentation of the international community has resulted in global risks of food security, safety, and community resilience. To address concerns of loss and damage, the Paris Agreement reaffirmed the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage to avert, minimize, and address loss and damage associated with climate change effects, including extreme weather events and slow onset events.[2]  This mechanism created an institutionalized policy space to address the adverse consequences of climate change: slow onset events; non-economic losses; displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change; and comprehensive risk management and transformational approaches.

Identification of non-economic losses that are valuable, and vulnerable to climate change, such as life, health, societal and cultural identity was instrumental in determining effective solutions to addressing the losses communities experience due to climate change. By expanding the term losses to include non-economic losses, the mechanism introduces qualitative criteria such as the value system of communities. This provides a holistic evaluation of community loss beyond economic metrics alone and would promote equity. This mechanism can be used to avoid limiting the adaptation and mitigation efforts based on the dollar value of loss and damage by developing cost effectiveness methods. Cost effectiveness methods would compare the costs of alternative means of achieving the same stream of benefits when reaching a given objective. This introduction of qualitative metrics can be used effectively with quantitative metrics (economic losses) to determine whether a disaster response method will mitigate risk and create long-term non-monetary benefits.

The Paris Agreement introduces effective financial mechanisms that allow parties to create commitments, collaborative solutions to address climate change impacts, and increase participation of parties to take action. Due to various global disruptions, parties have become even more impatient to rapidly switch to renewable energy sources and reduce dependency on import-based fossil fuels. These steps together would promote climate justice and the collective responsibility to meet the goals set to reduce climate change impacts.

[1] United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Press Releases. UN expert says contemporary forms of slavery affecting minority communities, urges action to end discrimination. September 15, 2022. Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/press-releases/2022/09/un-expert-says-contemporary-forms-slavery-affecting-minority-communities

[2] United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. Disaster Risk Reduction Terminology. Available at: https://www.undrr.org/terminology/disaster-risk-reduction

[3] https://unfccc.int/topics/adaptation-and-resilience/the-big-picture/introduction-to-loss-and-damage


The Global Goal on Adaptation: A Paris Agreement Feature That Tells a Broader Story

By Student Delegate Emily Davis

I. What is the Global Goal on Adaptation?

The Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA) is a novel feature and aspiration included in the Paris Agreement. Article 2 of the Agreement identifies “increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change” as one of three actions that will “strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change.”[1] Adaptation—along with mitigation and transparency—is a bedrock goal of the Paris Agreement.[2]

Indeed, all of Article 7 of the Paris Agreement is devoted to the GGA. Paragraph 1 provides that the “Parties hereby establish the global goal on adaptation of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change, with a view to contributing to sustainable development . . . .”[3] The remaining fourteen paragraphs elaborate on how the Parties should proceed with their adaptation efforts.

Currently, the GGA is a recognized pillar in the foundation of the Paris Agreement. But it should not be taken for granted; adaptation support was not always accepted or appreciated by all Parties. Adaptation as presented in the Paris Agreement—that is, on equal footing with mitigation and transparency—is an innovation that developing countries negotiated for.

II. Why is the Global Goal on Adaptation important?

While the GGA is important because it is essential for achieving climate resilience, its mere presence in the Paris Agreement merits attention. Understanding the GGA’s pathway to prominence in the Paris Agreement sheds light on at least two important dynamics between negotiating Parties. The GGA (1) represents a shift away from the mitigation-focused interests of developed counties, and (2) exemplifies the duality of local actions and collective goals.

  A. Adaptation is a significant shift away from the developed countries’      emphasis on mitigation.

First, the GGA departs from a historic emphasis on mitigation efforts (such as reducing greenhouse gas concentrations) that developed countries championed for years.[4] By contrast, adaptation efforts (such as adjusting domestic behaviors to limit harm) were central to the negotiating positions of developing countries.[5] The emphasis on adaptation in the Paris Agreement marked a change from historic patterns that favored wealthier nations.

The original 1992 U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) emphasized mitigation. The “ultimate objective” was to achieve “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.”[6] Adaptation, however, was mentioned only once in the UNFCCC. Paragraph 1 (e) of Article 4 required the Parties to “[c]ooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change.”[7] Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol continued to emphasize mitigation. The main outcome of the Kyoto Protocol was that Annex I Parties must “ensure that their aggregate anthropogenic carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of the greenhouse gases listed . . . do not exceed their assigned amounts.”[8] Adaptation was not mentioned at all.

But cracks in the mitigation wall began to form at COP16 in 2010, when Parties established the Cancun Adaptation Framework and the Adaptation Committee.[9] The momentum for adaptation continued until COP20 in Lima, Peru, which exposed the mitigation/adaptation dichotomy between the developed and developing countries.[10] Developed countries wanted their “nationally determined commitments” to focus only on mitigation.[11] Developing countries advocated to include adaptation in those commitments. The developing countries eventually prevailed at COP20; the final decision invited the Parties to share their adaptation plans, or “consider including an adaptation component in their intended nationally determined contributions.”[12]

As the Parties prepared for COP21, they agreed that the new legal instrument they were planning—the Paris Agreement—would “address adaptation and mitigation ‘in a balanced manner.’”[13] Ultimately, the Paris Agreement delivered on that promise. It elevated and formalized the role of adaptation efforts through the GGA provisions in Article 7.

So, the GGA is important because it memorialized a departure from mitigation-focused agreements of the past. This change validates the interests of developing countries in climate negotiations.

B. Adaption efforts marry bottom-up local procedures with top-down collective goals.

Second, the GGA embodies the duality of local action and collective goals. Article 7, Paragraph 2 of the Paris Agreement states that the “Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all with local, subnational, national, regional and international dimensions.”[14]

In essence, adaptation by its very nature relies on a bottom-up, country-driven process. Countries have different vulnerabilities to climate change, as well as different abilities to respond to those vulnerabilities. Accordingly, adaptation actions are inextricably linked to the idiosyncrasies of place and local context.

This is distinct from the top-down nature of mitigation efforts, wherein negotiating Parties agree on collective goals. Mitigation efforts have clear metrics. Parties can define emissions standards or target concentrations of greenhouse gases.[15] Those standards are then imposed upon the Parties, and progress can be tracked quantifiably.

This local and collective dichotomy underlies many other provisions of the Paris Agreement and can be a tension between negotiating Parties. For instance, one of the guiding principles is “equity and common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.”[16] How do the Parties achieve common adaptation goals in light of their different national circumstances and capabilities? A challenge for the GGA moving forward will be achieving global progress on adaptation, when much of the work is done on the local level.

III. Are Parties Making Progress?

The World Resources Institute reports that “[p]rogress on defining the GGA has been slow.”[17] Progress is frustrated by attempts to account for the many peculiarities and complexities related to adaptation efforts (which are by nature context-specific). Progress is also limited by the need to understand and incorporate the diversity of local experiences without adding a reporting burden to resource-limited countries.[18]

However, recent efforts may be accelerating progress. At COP26 in Glasgow, the Parties established the two-year Glasgow-Sharm el-Sheikh work program on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GlaSS).[19] The program’s objective is to support adaptation action through developing country-driven processes. Citing the Paris Agreement, GlaSS observes that “adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems . . . .”[20] This quote shows the complex, multi-faceted, local, and idiosyncratic nature of adaptation action. Understandably, tracking adaptation progress is a dizzying task.

As the Parties prepare for COP27 at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, one task will be to determine how Parties define and track progress on the GGA, given its ambiguous and multi-dimensional nature.

[1] Paris Agreement to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104, art. 2 [hereinafter Paris Agreement].

[2] Bonnie Smith, Adapting the Paris Agreement, NYU Env’t L. J. (Apr. 15, 2016), https://www.nyuelj.org/2016/04/adapting-the-paris-agreement/.

[3] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, art. 7.

[4] Adapting the Paris Agreement, supra note 2.

[5] Id.

[6] U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, May 9, 1992, S. Treaty Doc No. 102-38, art. 2.

[7] Id. art. 4(e).

[8] Kyoto Protocol to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Dec. 11, 1997, 2303 U.N.T.S. 162, art. 3, para 1.

[9] Chronology – Adaptation Committee, U.N. Climate Change, https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/bodies/constituted-bodies/adaptation-committee-ac/chronology-adaptation-committee (last visited Sept. 28, 2022).

[10] Outcomes of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima, Ctr. For Climate and Energy Solutions 2 (Dec. 2014) https://www.c2es.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/outcomes-of-the-u-n-climate-change-conference-in-lima.pdf

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Adapting the Paris Agreement, supra note 2.

[14] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, art. 7.

[15] Kiyomi de Zoysa, Tamara Coger, & Nisha Krishnan, Can the Global Goal on Adaptation Be Locally Led?, World Res. Inst. (July 22, 2022) https://www.wri.org/insights/can-global-goal-adaptation-be-locally-led.

[16] Paris Agreement, supra note 1, preamble.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Glasgow–Sharm el-Sheikh Work Programme on the Global Goal on Adaptation, UNFCC, https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/gses_wp_background_timeline.pdf (last visited Sept. 28, 2022).

[20] Id.

Is Self-Differentiation a Good Way to Reach Equitable Climate Solutions?

By Student Delegate Wenfang Liang

Common but Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capacities (CBDRRC) is a general principle under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This principle includes two key concepts—common and differentiated. The “common” is easy to understand: all countries have responsibilities for environmental protection. The “differentiated” is more complex: it involves many issues, such as duty distribution, countries’ development level, and differentiated participation mechanisms.

There is not an operational definition of CBDRRC under the UNFCCC; thus, different countries have different understandings about differentiation. Many countries tend to consider differentiation in a way that maximizes their own interests. For example, developing countries like India and China claim that responsibilities should be differentiated according to historical GHG emission contribution. Developed countries like the U.S and Europe, the largest historical contributors, object strongly to this approach.

The Paris Agreement adopts a self-differentiation approach that allows countries to decide what their capabilities are and what “differentiated” means for them. For example, the U.S. pledges to be net zero by 2050, China by 2060, and India by 2070. These varying contributions underscore the considerable leeway granted under the self-differentiation approach.

Before the 2009 Copenhagen COP15 talks, the interpretation of CBDRRC under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol was binary. Countries were either Annex I (industrial countries) or non-Annex I countries. Only Annex I countries had quantified emission reduction obligations under the Kyoto Protocol whereas non-Annex I countries could increase carbon emissions for development.

This strict distinction did not reflect the dynamic diversification already underway among developing countries since the 1900s. From 1990 to 2008, Annex I countries’ emissions remained high and non-Annex I countries’ emissions rose by 223%. At the same time, climate change impacts, such as extreme weather, were increasingly obvious and devastating, especially for island countries and coastal areas. The standpoint and capabilities of such countries are more complex than binary. The dichotomous interpretation within the UNFCCC process brought deepening divergences between countries, which resulted in a negotiation collapse in 2009 at Copenhagen.

In the following few years, the debate between the global north and south on how to distribute obligation continued, all while greenhouse gas emissions that are warming the Earth reached record levels.  Subsequent COPs saw developing countries growing more willing to take on some form of climate commitments, although critical questions remained about how to determine specific responsibilities for each country given their vastly different domestic situation.  Strict distinction between developed and developing countries clearly wouldn’t work any longer, and support emerged for an inclusive and open mechanism that moved beyond the Kyoto Protocol’s binary structure.

The Paris Agreement ultimately landed on the self-differentiation approach, which did succeed in attracting broader participation and catalyzing different parties to communicate and work together. 188 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) were provided to the Secretariat in the run-up to or just after COP21, covering far more than the countries that had made commitments under the Kyoto Protocol (38 industrialized countries).

The Paris Agreement requires each Party to prepare, communicate and maintain successive NDCs that it intends to achieve. However, every country has the flexibility to decide on its specific contributions, including any emission reduction target, as well as the balance of mitigation and adaptation measures.  None of these components are strictly mandatory, and true acceptance of the commitments requires a certain amount of faith and trust between parties. And beyond countries’ efforts, outside stakeholders, mostly civil society, will be the judge and jury on whether countries are doing a fair job.

Some think the downside of the Paris Agreement has been its voluntary nature, but we do live in a world with a great resource, development , and political power imbalance. What’s the equitable way to limit temperature rise to no more than 2˚ or 1.5˚? Until the  1990s when emerging economies entered into periods of sustained economic growth, the developed countries of the Global North were both the largest annual polluters and by far the largest contributors to historic emissions. This imbalance resulted in the Kyoto Protocol, a distinctive and binary way to enforce differentiation. However, countries’ interests and pace of growth the past two decades has changed the dynamic significantly. For example, China and India have become two of the world’s largest GHG polluters, and there are large differentiations arising among developing countries with different development speeds.  In addition, the varying pace of development has created a new type of inequality between countries as the negotiations on Paris Agreement issues continue.

Next year will mark the first “Global Stocktake” and the best test to date for the self-differentiation approach of the Paris Agreement. The Stocktake may provide insight into how well the system of NDCs is working, whether effective coordination mechanisms for finance and technology have been established, and whether new challenges including greater inequity between parties are apparent.  The success of self-differentiation, therefore, remains to be seen.


Pieter Pauw et al., Subtle differentiation of countries’ responsibilities under the Paris Agreement (2019), https://www.nature.com/articles/s41599-019-0298-6

Nicholas Chan, Climate Contributions and the Paris Agreement: Fairness and Equity in a Bottom-Up Architecture (2016), https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/ethics-and-international-affairs/article/climate-contributions-and-the-paris-agreement-fairness-and-equity-in-a-bottomup-architecture/E06449D60FD345D429F29EAFB0B79E86

Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, The Paris Agreement: A New Step in the Gradual Evolution of Differential Treatment in the Climate Regime? (2016), https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/reel.12162

Wei Peng et. al, To achieve deep cuts in US emissions, state-driven policy is only slightly more expensive than nationally uniform policy (2021), https://www.nature.com/articles/s41558-021-01193-5

Parikh and L. Baruah, Common but differentiated responsibilities among Non-Annex i countries of UNFCCC, 2012.

INDCs as communicated by Parties, INDC, https://www4.unfccc.int/sites/submissions/indc/Submission%20Pages/submissions.aspx

Who Should Foot the Bill?: The Role of Developed Countries in Meeting the Paris Agreement’s Temperature Goals

By Student Delegate Cynthia Kane

Climate change is the behemoth problem of our times; it is often referred to as “super wicked” due to its complexity, long-term effects, and uncertain trajectory.[1] Nowhere is this complexity more apparent than in the Paris Agreement (“Agreement”), ratified by 194 countries and covering approximately 95% of global greenhouse gas emissions. One key aspect of the Agreement is its ambitious and historic temperature goals outlined in Article 2, Section 1: “[H]olding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” However, while the participating countries agreed on the temperature goals, significant disagreement still exists about the best way to achieve them. A key—and controversial—question that has emerged from this discussion is: what role, if any, should developed countries play in funding developing countries’ climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts? The answer to this question largely depends on which country you ask and the lens through which the country views climate change (i.e., as an economic or moral issue).[2]

The United States (“U.S.”) views climate change as an economic issue,[3] and made it clear that it would assist developing countries because it has the financial capacity to do so—not out of a moral obligation. Indeed, during COP15, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged that the developed world would “mobilize $100 billion annually” starting in 2020 to aid developing countries’ adaptation and mitigation efforts. Nevertheless, while amenable to providing financial support to the most vulnerable developing countries, the U.S. was wary of the political fallout that such provisions in the Agreement would create. Consequently, at COP21, when the Agreement was finalized, the U.S. was adamant that the language relating to payments to developing countries explicitly stated such payments were not an indication of legal liability. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry explained: “We’re not against [loss and damage]. We’re in favor of framing it in a way that doesn’t create a legal remedy because Congress will never buy into an agreement that has something like that . …The impact of it would be to kill the deal.” Thus, the U.S. views language mandating payments to developing countries or assigning legal liability to such payments as unacceptable.

In contrast to the U.S.’s economic view, many developing countries consider climate change to be a social justice and equity issue. These developing countries believe that because developed countries have disproportionately contributed to climate change, they have a moral obligation to assist developing countries with their mitigation efforts.[4] This is the viewpoint of the COP negotiating bloc known as the Like Minded Developing Countries (“LMDC”), which includes 25 countries and represents over 50% of the world’s population. This bloc seeks to keep the Agreement’s differentiated obligations between developing and developed countries and has been vocal in its push for financial assistance in order to ensure equity for developing countries. In other words, the bloc believes that developed countries should be obligated to provide financial assistance for mitigation, while developing countries should have the option to do so if their socioeconomic capabilities allow them to.

In preparation for COP27, the bloc submitted a proposal to revise the definition of “climate finance” within the Agreement. The proposal reiterates developed countries’ obligations to provide funding to developing countries. It further asserts that the lack of an agreed-upon definition of “climate finance” has caused inconsistent and ineffective reporting of both developed countries’ contributions and developing countries’ receipt of contributions and continuing financial needs. Using available reporting data from 2013 to 2018, a 2021 United Nations report confirms the bloc’s assertion: the report found that the rate of contribution, while increasing annually, was “not sufficient to reach the $100 billion [goal] in 2020.”

The LMDC’s proposal will be considered during negotiations in November. However, the larger question of developed countries’ obligations to developing countries will likely remain a hotly debated issue well beyond COP27—only time will tell which viewpoint will prevail.


[1]  DANIEL BODANSKY ET AL., INTERNATIONAL CLIMATE CHANGE LAW 2 (Oxford University Press ed., 1st ed. 2007).

[2]  Id. at 4.

[3]  Id. at 6 – 7.

[4]  Id. at 7 – 8.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Paris Agreement’s Legal Structure

By Student Delegate Fredrick Ole Ikayo 

When parties adopted the Paris Agreement in 2015, they agreed that certain provisions carry more legal force than others. These provisions fall into three categories: hard law, soft law, and provisions that show an understanding of the parties. The hard law provisions are framed in mandatory terms—those which use the word “shall.” Soft law provisions use discretionary or qualifying language, or are structured in advisory terms—those which use the word “should” or “encourage.” An example of a provision that merely conveys an understanding of the parties is in Article 7 on adaptation: “Parties recognize that adaptation is a global challenge faced by all.”

Despite the variable legal character of the Paris Agreement provisions, the actions of parties under the Agreement must be clearly aligned with curbinggreenhouse gases, and the bottom-up architecture is meant to ensure that the developmental stages of countries are taken into account and national sovereignty is upheld.  This bottom-up approach has been a major point of disagreement among stakeholders evaluating the merits of the Agreement. Some see the Paris Agreement in a negative light, believing its bottom-up approach to be too weak, while others see it most positively, recognizing that it shows the political will of parties and addresses climate change globally like no other agreement before.

Those who believe the Paris Agreement and its bottom-up approach are net positives tend to reference three primary arguments. Firstly, most parties involved—critics and proponents alike— agree that the Paris Agreement was a major symbolic success. The Paris Agreement has garnered international support since the agreement came to force. 194  out of 198 parties to the UNFCCC are parties to the Paris Agreement.[1] This collective action demonstrates that tackling climate change is a global concern, and that at the very least, a majority of the countries take climate change seriously.

Secondly, in Article 4 the Paris Agreementspecifies that developed countries should take the lead in reducing global emissions and provide support for developing country parties. This in turn recognizes the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, which gives rise to profound equity questions raised by the climate change challenge.[2] However, parties divided along the “developed” and “developing” line tend to differ in their interpretation of what “accountability” actually means. Many developing countries focus on the term “responsibilities” in tandem with accountability, stating big emitters have greater responsibility to contribute to fixing climate change based on historical emissions. Conversely, developed countries, like the United States, focus on “capabilities,” providing a basis for ratcheting up responsibilities as a country gains technological and financial capabilities.  While developed countries concede they have some degree of accountability toward reducing climate change emissions, they are less willing to take on the responsibilities pointed to by developing countries.[3]

Lastly, the Agreement has had a positive impact because it provides flexibility for each country to create a Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) constituting individualized plans to address emissions. Progression is measured by national contributions as provided for under Article 4.2 and 4.3 of the Paris Agreement. Though the individualized plans are non-binding, they represent how each country takes action in addressing climate change.

Not everyone believes the Paris Agreement has been such a marked success. Critics  call it a symbolic victory and little else: firstly, the agreement contains discretionary provisions, which in turn creates non-binding legal obligations. For example, Article 4.4 provides that“Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move overtime towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.” Critics point to this as a significant flaw in the Agreement’s overall objective: if parties to the Paris Agreement do not abide by their pledges, there are no enforcement mechanisms to hold parties accountable, thus leading to no real change.

Secondly, current global policies and pledges do not put countries anywhere near the pathway that would hold global temperatures to no more than 1.5 degrees warming above  pre-industrial levels as provided for under Article 2.1(a). The Paris Agreement stresses the importance of addressing climate change, but it gives unrealistic targets that do more to bow to global economies than turn the tide of climate change.

Thirdly, a change in government may weaken or strengthen the global fight against climate change, making countries’ participation in the agreement volatile. For example, former U.S. President Trump announced in 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement.[4] However, it was not until November 4, 2020, that the withdrawal came into force. Conversely, current U.S. President Biden rejoined the Paris Agreement, stressing that climate change was a priority for his administration.[5]

Overall, the Paris agreement establishes a common goal to limit global warming well below 2 andpreferably 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. However, achieving this goal will require ambitious national action, along with non-state and subnational players pressing for and contributing to appropriate climate action. Despite its global acceptance, the effects of climate change are imminent and catastrophic. For instance, Pakistan’s recent floods are linked to climate change.[6] The Paris Agreement alone won’t solve climate change, but accountability domestically and internationally through effective legislation, implementation, ratcheting up national ambitions, and performance on pledged commitments on climate and adaptation finance by developed countries can put us on a better pathway to limit the most catastrophic effects of climate change.


[1] United Nations Climate Change, Paris Agreement — Status of Ratification (Sept. 27, 2022), https://unfccc.int/process/the-paris-agreement/status-of-ratification.

[2] Article 2.2 of the Paris Agreement.

[3] For an in-depth discussion, see Lavanya Rajamani & Emmanuel Guerin, ‘Central Concepts in the Paris Agreement and How They Evolved’, in Daniel Klein et al.The Paris Climate Agreement: Analysis and Commentary (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2017); Lavanya Rajamani, Guiding Principles and General Obligations (Article 2.2 and Article 3)’, in Klein et al.; see also Christina Voigt & Felipe Ferriera, ‘Differentiation in the Paris Agreement’, 6 Climate Law Special Issue, 58–74 (2016).

[4] Lisa Friedman, Trump Serves Notice to Quit Paris Climate Agreement, N.Y. Times, (Nov. 4, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/04/climate/trump-paris-agreement-climate.html.

[5] Elian Peltier & Somini Sengupta, U.S Formally Rejoins the Paris Climate Accord, N.Y. Times, (Feb. 19, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/19/world/us-rejoins-paris-climate-accord.html.

[6] Raymond Zhong, In a First Study of Pakistan’s Floods, Scientists See Climate Change at Work, N.Y. Times, (Sept. 15, 2022), https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/15/climate/pakistan-floods-global-warming.html.