What is the Paris Agreement?

The 2015 Paris Agreement is the most significant international treaty on climate change, it saw 195 countries unite in a commitment to limit the rise in global temperatures.

The aim of the Paris Agreement is to keep the rise in global average temperatures to below 2°C, aiming for 1.5°C. This figure was chosen because scientists have agreed it is the maximum ‘safe’ climate limit, above which the impacts of climate change are likely to be catastrophic, irreversible and beyond what we can adapt to.


195 countries negotiated the agreement at COP21, the 21st meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The previous international agreement, that the Paris Agreement follows, was called the Kyoto Agreement.

How does it work?

Each country submitted its own commitment which detailed the actions it would take to reduce its emissions. These commitments are known as an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) was a bottom-up approach that helped to catalyse buy-in from all countries – creating a greater chance that climate action will be successfully implemented.

Now, each government can decide its own climate contribution plan, whether through action in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transport, market mechanisms, or land use and forests.

This is important as previous treaties were very much negotiated ‘top down’ with many countries not included in the emissions reduction goals (including some noticeable exceptions such as China). This time, every participating country has pledged to reduce emissions.

The Paris Agreement is non-binding, meaning there is no mechanism to force a country to set a specific target by a specific date, but each target should go beyond previously set targets.

More needs to be done - the emissions gap

The Paris Agreement has confirmed that carbon emissions levels need to drop if we are to stand any chance of preventing catastrophic damage and an unsafe climate in the future. Yet even if each country meets its reduction targets, there would still be a gap of 11–19 Gigatonnes of CO2e in 2030 between what should be emitted to hit a 1.5°C increase target and what is pledged to be emitted.

This huge gap is equivalent to roughly eliminating all of China’s emissions (just under 12 GtCO2e/year1), and all of the emissions from China plus the USA (nearly 7 GtCO2e/year2) at the highest case. This gap will need to be filled by companies and individuals.

The significance of the Paris Agreement for forests

The Paris Agreement has helped accelerate awareness, investment and support for forests as it stated that forests are a critical ‘carbon sink’ that governments must support – this was an official stamp of approval.

Many of the INDCs submitted at Paris included making sustainable land use one of the key mechanisms for reducing emissions. In fact:

  • 119 countries included sustainable land use for climate mitigation
  • 78 of these are developing countries
  • 126, or 94%, of the 134 INDCs from developing countries cited land use as a priority in climate adaptation plans

Deforestation and forest degradation, and the subsequent release of CO2, currently accounts for approximately 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Successfully tackling deforestation and degradation is the largest and most-cost effective immediate opportunity to reduce global emissions. In the short term (pre-2020), the land-use sector could store 2.4-8.5 GtCO2e, from about a quarter to over 60% of the 11-13.5 GtCO2e gap.

Natural climate solutions, such as stopping deforestation and forest degradation and promoting sustainable land use, can deliver more than one-third of the required near-term emissions reduction.

At Ecosphere+

We work to help scale private sector and consumer investment in our natural land sinks, as we know this is critical for meeting our climate goals and keeping climate change to a safe limit.

Find out what you can do as a business or an individual to better understand, manage and rebalance your emissions to take action today.

You can also find downloadable infographics to help explain the emissions gap and Paris Agreement in our handy resources section.

1. Climate Action Tracker, ‘China’. Found at: http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/china.html

2. Climate Action Tracker, USA. Found at: http://climateactiontracker.org/countries/usa.html