Where Do We Stand with the Paris Agreement?

By Helena Reinders

Five years ago, over 180 countries and the European Union signed the Paris Agreement, also known as COP 21. By doing so, they all agreed that by 2020 all those who signed should hand in their new climate policy plans. Between the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the United States pulling out of the agreement, and China voicing their pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060, where do we currently stand with the Paris Agreement? 

Before one can speak about where we stand with the Paris Agreement, it is important to understand what the agreement entails. The Paris Agreement has come from the decisions made at COP 21, the 21st annual meeting of all nations that make up the United Nations Framework on Climate Change in Paris in 2015. The agreement became effective on the 4th of November, 2016. It acknowledges the urgent need of nations to take measures which would lower CO2 emissions significantly. More specifically, the agreement states that the global temperature should not rise over 2 degrees Celsius, preferably not higher than 1.5 degrees. Next to this, the agreement states that developed nations will contribute to the progress of sustainability enhancement of developing states. This acknowledges that developing states should not suffer under the greenhouse gasses developed states have emitted during and after their industrial revolution. Furthermore, all parties have agreed to come together every five years to assess the collective progress towards the long-term goals and inform each other about any plans regarding updates and enhancements to their nationally determined contributions. This last point has been added into the agreement to ensure transparency between all signing parties. Since the agreement is not binding, it relies on states’ own efforts and contributions, as well as states holding each other accountable for the agreement they have made. An interesting part of the agreement also states that when presenting their long-term goals, all parties must also present new ways of building resilience and decreasing vulnerability to the adverse effects of climate change. 

So then, what exactly has happened in the five years since the Paris Agreement? Many countries have been working on creating sustainable policies. In June 2019, Canada revealed their Federal Sustainable Development Strategy, working towards clean growth, ensuring healthy ecosystems and building safe, secure and sustainable communities. This strategy consists of a three-year plan which will enable the country to take effective action on climate change. On the other side of the world, Indian Prime Minister Modi has been the driving force behind many of India’s sustainable policies. The state and its people are working together to set goals which are unprecedented for a country which is still classified as a developing nation in the international community. Currently, India is well on its way to achieve its goal of having 40% of the nation’s power come from renewable energy sources by 2030. Most recently, even China has come forward with new sustainable development goals, aiming to be completely carbon neutral by 2060. Although many of the details behind this pledge are still unknown, Chinese president Xi Jinping urging the world to cooperate on climate change marks an important change in the climate scene. With China’s influence in international trade and politics ever on the rise, it is setting a clear statement on the nation’s stance towards climate change, a stance which could not differ more from that of the United States of America. To the disappointment of many world leaders, President Donald Trump announced on June 1, 2017 that the United States would leave the Paris Agreement. He explained the reason to be that the current agreement undermined the US economy and put the US at a permanent disadvantage. Nevertheless, many US states continued their sustainable policy developments. Since the initial statement of the US to leave the agreement, 24 states and Puerto Rico have come together to form the Climate Alliance, a group of states which continue to work towards goals set by the Paris Agreement. 

Interestingly enough, the majority of the population in the G20 countries see climate change as the most pressing political issue of our time. Research shows that over 60% of these populations even see it as their government’s responsibility to undertake action towards the climate crisis. Besides that, about the same percentage of people also view it as their own responsibility to undertake action and change their habits and lifestyle. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, many people are still voicing their concerns for climate change. This becomes especially clear in nations where governments are attempting to create a greener post-COVID state. Take a look at The Netherlands, for example. There, over 170 scientists already pledged for the country to take the COVID crisis as an opportunity to build the country back up in a greener, more sustainable way. Even when the national government of The Netherlands couldn’t get to discussing the post-COVID plans, the city of Amsterdam had already started working on their own sustainable policies. Amsterdam has voiced that its new policies will be based on Kate Raworth’s doughnut-economy model (Watch her explain this model here), with the sole purpose to keep the economy within the ecological limits. In France, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is campaigning to turn the city into what she refers to as a “15-minute city.” This would entail a person having everything they need be within the range of 15 minutes by foot or bike, lowering the need for carbon emitting means of transportation. This campaign also involves the mayor pledging  Paris to create better, safer, and greener infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. 

With all of these major developments happening in such a short amount of time, could 2020 be seen as the year of major change in the global political sphere of sustainable climate development? Only time will tell. For now, however, things are looking better for the progress towards a sustainable future than they have ever before. 


Canada’s Federal Sustainable Development Strategy: http://fsds-sfdd.ca/index.html#/en/goals/

India’s Climate Change Policy:


Falkner, R. (2016). The Paris Agreement and the new logic of international climate politics. International Affairs, 92(5), 1107-1125.

Hale, T. (2016). “All Hands on Deck”: The Paris Agreement and Nonstate Climate Action. Global Environmental Politics, 16(3), 12-22.

Edited by Karolina Hajna

Artwork by Mira Kurtovic