The Paris Agreement on climate is irreversible

Chris Simoens & Ulrik Lenaerts
20 January 2017
Early last year, we reported on the Paris Agreement on climate (Globe, 1/2016). At the end of 2016, a new climate conference was held in Marrakesh. What did this achieve?


The Paris Agreement on climate entered into force on 3 November 2016, just before the climate conference in Marrakesh (7-18 November 2016). At the time, 55 countries, who together account for 55% of global emissions of greenhouse gases, officially deposited their ratification with the UN. This occurred faster than expected, partly under the impulse of former President Obama (US) and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The EU ratified the agreement in October, and as such, did not wait for the approval of Member States individually, which is planned for 2017.


Few concrete results were expected from the climate conference in Marrakesh. However, bolstered by the smooth activation of the Paris Agreement, the conference wanted to demonstrate that the political will existed around the world to tackle climate change. The conference ultimately achieved four important results.

1. The rulebook must be ready by 2018

For each of its components, including transparency, accountability and capacity building, the Paris Agreement often only indicates the important principles and objectives. The intention was to subsequently draw up a detailed and workable rulebook based on these principles, including indications of who does what. The climate conference in Marrakesh decided that the rulebook needed to be ready by 2018, instead of the initially planned 2020.

2. Decision-making up to 2018 will be done by all parties.

After ratification, a 'conference of the parties' will be regularly organised: a conference in which the countries who ratified the agreement - the parties to the agreement - will consult with each other. The first assembly of the Paris Agreement was immediately held in Marrakesh. It was decided that all countries should be included in drafting the rulebook until 2018, even the countries which have not yet ratified the agreement, but intend to do so. That way, these countries will not be excluded from the decision-making process.

3. It is feasible to set aside 100 billion dollars per year to reduce developing countries' emissions, and make them climate resilient.

It is difficult to calculate exactly how much money is spent on climate. In Marrakesh, rich countries presented a very safe analysis of their climate funding for developing countries. The study revealed that public funding by rich countries will rise from 41 billion dollars over the period 2013-14, to an estimated 67 billion dollars by 2020. By including private funding, for example export credits, the 100 billion dollars should definitely be exceeded in 2020. Developing countries also accepted the findings of this study. The pledge made in Copenhagen (2009) to set aside 100 billion dollars for developing countries every year therefore did not turn out to be a hollow promise.

4. The Paris Agreement on the climate is irreversible

The Paris Agreement on climate achieved broad social consensus in 2016. It represented a watershed moment in how the world deals with climate change. Marrakesh needed to confirm the political will to evolve towards a low carbon society. The election of climate sceptic Donald Trump as President of the US during the Marrakesh conference made such a signal all the more urgent. The conference managed to send a strong political signal that the Paris Agreement on climate is irreversible. Moreover, since the Paris Agreement, the initiative has been in the hands of all the parties involved and no longer just the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Countries, NGOs, the private sector, individual citizens, etc., must now pick up the gauntlet and put the agreement into practice.


Discover the answers to 5 frequently asked questions about the Paris Agreement. 



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