The main purpose of the Paris Climate Agreement is to provide a pathway forward in tackling climate change. Though it allows each country to decide on their own course of action, it "solidifies international cooperation for climate change" and "sends a powerful signal to markets that now is the time to invest in the low emission economy".
The agreement provides a pathway forward to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees, maybe even 1.5. The agreement provides a mechanism to increase the level of ambition.
The Paris Agreement is an ambitious, dynamic and universal agreement. It covers all countries and all emissions, and is designed to last. This is a monumental agreement. It solidifies international cooperation for climate change. It provides a way forward.
it seems the Paris Climate Agreement was basically non-binding with no actual consequences
There's indeed no legal consequences should a country not comply with it. However, the country will just be "overshadowed by negative reactions", according to the FAQs published by the UN.
Q: What happens if a country doesn’t live up to its commitments? Would there be any enforcement?
Countries have every reason to comply with the terms of the Agreement. It is in their interest to implement the agreement, not only in terms of achieving the benefits of taking climate action, but also to show global solidarity.
There is no benefit to flouting the Agreement. Any short-term time gain will be short-lived. It will undoubtedly be overshadowed by negative reactions, by other countries, financial markets, and most important, by their citizens.
What are the countries the have signed on actually agreeing to?
Basically, it encourages the countries to take action and to determine their own goals. The argument is that it's in everyone's interest to tackle climate change and thus this agreement formalises this action.
Q: What does the agreement require countries to do?
The agreement requires all countries to take action, while recognizing their differing situations and circumstances. Under the Agreement, countries are responsible for taking action on both mitigation and adaptation.
Countries officially submitted their own nationally determined climate actions. They have an obligation to implement these plans, and if they do, it will bend the curve downward in the projected global temperature rise.
The agreement not only formalizes the process of developing national plans, but also it provides a binding requirement to assess and review progress on these plans. This mechanism will require countries to continuously upgrade their commitments and ensure that there will be no backtracking.
This agreement is a clarion call from governments that they are ready for implementing the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.
In conclusion, this agreement is less of an enforcement mechanism for countries to fight climate change. Rather, it's a call for action and encourages all the signatories to do their best to achieve the ultimate to limit global warming below 2 degree Celsius and hopefully to 1.5 degree Celsius. As such, it's largely symbolic and voluntary to a certain degree. However, it signifies that the world is united and their agreement to tackle climate change.
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