Worldwide: Key Features Of And The Occasional Surprise In The Paris Agreement – Part One

Last Updated: 16 February 2016
Article by Frances Lawson

The text finally agreed in Paris does not lend itself to easy navigation or digestion; the absence of sub-headings makes it necessary to dive into each paragraph in detail in order to understand the subject matter. This article will summarise the first set of key provisions and points of interest for legal practitioners.

The text itself is comprised of two parts; the first is the actual Paris Agreement, the legal text, albeit its legal character remains the subject of contention; the second is the Decision of the Conference of the Parties (COP Decision). This sets out the mechanics of the Agreement and also defines the actions that the Parties are encouraged to 'bridge the commitment gap' to 2020 when the Paris Agreement takes effect.

The Agreement

Article 2

Article 2 is the first provision of significance. It can be loosely defined as providing the aim or purpose of the Agreement, which is how it was labelled prior to the removal of sub-headings at the COP. Article 2 contains three key elements.

First, it confirms that the Paris Agreement is under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and its aim is to enhance "the implementation of the Convention". A key ask of many developing countries, the situating of the new Agreement under the existing legal architecture has both a positive and negative dimension. The positive aspect is that it avoids unnecessary duplication by building on the institutions and efforts of the past 22 years rather than creating something separate that needs to be constructed from scratch. The downside is that the problematic parts of the Convention that stall more rapid global action on climate change also govern the Paris Agreement.

More eye-catchingly, Article 2 contains the much-talked of global temperature goal. Rather than setting a bold intention to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, as some Parties wished given the scientific warnings of the effects of a 2 degree temperature rise, the wording reflects a compromise – the aim being to hold the increase in global average temperature to "well below" 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees. Where on the spectrum between 2 degrees and 1.5 degrees lies a temperature increase "well below" 2 degrees is one of the topics of debate that has arisen post-COP. The short answer is that no-one knows, and this is one example of the vagueness built-in to the Agreement which is one of its major shortcomings.

In order to appease the G77 and China group, Article 2 also includes a bullet point stating that the Agreement "will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances". This principle, as discussed in previous posts, is the primary way in which developing country commitments are watered down by providing a "get-out clause" which enables them to assert their "particular national circumstances" as the justification for not taking the actions required.

Article 3

This is one of the most interesting provisions of all, and potentially the most exciting. The purpose of the Article is to define the nub of what Parties are committed to do under the Agreement. It reads as follows:

"As nationally determined contributions to the global response to climate change, all Parties are to undertake and communicate ambitious efforts as defined in Articles 4, 7, 9, 10, 11 and 13 with a view to achieving the purpose of this Agreement as set out in Article 2 ... The efforts of all Parties will represent a progression over time".

Article 3 therefore provides two points of interest; first, it makes clear that Parties' efforts to combat climate change will be called "Nationally Determined Contributions" – contributions being preferred to "commitments" which denoted a level of "binding force" that certain Parties were not comfortable with. More interestingly, and in surprisingly robust language, Article 3 then goes on to state that Parties have an obligation to produce an NDC covering mitigation (Art 4), adaptation (Art 7), finance (Art 9), technology development and transfer (Art 10), capacity building (Art 11), and transparency (Art 13), and to make "ambitious efforts" under each of those headings. Each NDC must represent a scaling-up of the level of action relative to the previous version – what was termed the "no backsliding principle" in the negotiations. The use of the phrase "Parties are to undertake and communicate" is particularly significant as it denotes a clear, legally enforceable obligation of the kind that has been a rarity in climate change law.

Some commentators have contended that the only binding obligation on States under the Paris Agreement is the obligation to produce and maintain an NDC. A careful reading of Article 3 indicates the obligation to extend some way beyond this – rather than simply a procedural requirement, Parties have an obligation of result. Through the vehicle of their NDC, they are required to make ambitious efforts towards meeting the global temperature goal in Article 2. Those ambitious actions must be in the areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology transfer, capacity building and transparency. This is a far more robust and wide-ranging obligation than was expected, and is the most positive and unexpected surprise in the text.

Article 4

Article 4 sets out in detail the actions that Parties are to take in the area of mitigation. Disappointingly, it states that Parties "aim" to reach a global peaking of GHG emissions "as soon as possible", rather than setting a deadline for emissions to peak by 2050 as had been hoped for by some Parties. In practice, the "possible" in "as soon as possible" is likely to mean "as soon as possible whilst increasing or maintaining GDP growth". As to be expected, developing countries have longer in which for their emissions to peak, and are to make rapid reductions thereafter. This reveals a major flaw in the whole ideology underpinning the Agreement; rather than setting developing countries, particularly the Least Developed Countries, onto a low, or zero carbon development trajectory from the outset, the Agreement tacitly allows countries to pursue a high-emissions development pathway, as China has done, and then to switch to reverse gear and seek to undo the damaging climatic effects of that pathway. The latter is both harder to do, as China's example demonstrates, and involves significantly higher amounts of carbon entering the atmosphere.

The other disappointing feature of Article 4 is that, unlike in previous versions of the text that included an option to aspire to "zero emissions" in the second half of this century, the long-term mitigation aim has been scaled back to one that strives for "a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of GHGs" in the second half of century. A balance between emissions in and out is not the same as "zero emissions", and this represents a weakening in the ambition level of the final agreement.

Article 4(2) provides greater detail of the nature of Parties' mitigation commitments:

"Each party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures, with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions".

The language used is a mixed blessing – whilst "shall" creates a clear obligation on each Party, previous versions of the text had provided for an additional obligation to "implement" the NDC. The limiting of the obligation to preparing, communicating and maintaining is disappointing, although it is perhaps of limited significance thanks to the Article 3 obligation on Parties to take mitigation and other climate action, which is arguably is akin to an obligation to implement the proposed actions in an NDC.

Article 4(3) reiterates the "ambition" and "no-backsliding" principle by stating that "each party's successive NDC will represent a progression" beyond the Party's then current NDC ... "and reflect its highest possible ambition" taking account, of course, of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities in light of different national circumstances.

Article 4(4) repeats the CBDR principle by stating that developed countries must take the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing countries should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are "encouraged" to move "over time" towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets. In other words, and in-line with the Sustainable Development Goals, the priority for developing country parties is to develop economically, and only then to start reducing overall emissions. Whilst this is understandable for the poorest developed countries, including the least developed countries, the imperative is that all such countries develop in a low-emissions way. An approach akin to that of China over the past two decades will almost certainly remove any hope of the global temperature goal being met. The only reference to the need for an alternative approach to development is found in Article 4(19) which states that Parties "should" strive to formulate and communicate long-term low GHG development strategies. With no deadline for this to be done, and no statement that the provision of finance, capacity building and other support will all be tied to the pursuit of a low-GHG development pathway, Article 4(19) is unlikely to drive the level of change required.

Article 4(9) stipulates that NDCs "shall" be communicated every 5 years and stored in a public registry maintained by UNFCCC secretariat, whilst Article 4(13) provides that Parties shall account for the targets and pledges in their NDCs, avoiding double counting and ensuring completeness, transparency, comparability, consistency and environmental integrity. Over twenty years since the UNFCCC came into effect, the lack of agreed accounting rules to ensure that emissions are actually being reduced to the extent that Parties say they are is a fundamental failing of the regime. The success of the Paris Agreement in meeting the temperature goal hinges to a large extent on Parties' ability in the years ahead to agree a set of coherent, effective accounting rules. Otherwise, emissions reductions that appear impressive in paper will hide the reality of what is actually going into the atmosphere.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.