Paris je t’aime: the historic climate agreement turns 5

On 12 December 2015 the world’s most ambitious plan for fighting climate change was born in Paris. The Paris Agreement is an historic international treaty which brings states together to limit the devastating effects of climate change.

On its fifth birthday, here are five reasons the Paris Agreement matters, five reasons it needs to be improved, and five things we hope happen next:

5 great things about the Paris Agreement

  • It got the whole world (well, nearly) on the same page to fight against climate change. For the first time, we have a common temperature goal to strive for: 1.5° C above pre-industrial levels. Limiting global warming to this degree would avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change.
  • It made it a legal requirement for all states to set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, for both the long and short term, and to share their targets and plans for reaching them.
  • It created huge momentum for the climate change movement. Since 2015 climate activism has taken off around the world, as more and more people demand accountability from governments and corporations.
  • It recognizes that climate action needs to be anchored in human rights. After sustained campaigning by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, the authors of the Paris Agreement included a requirement for governments to consider how their climate policies impact the right to health, the rights of Indigenous peoples, migrants, children, women and others disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.
  • This has boosted the climate justice movement, which means tackling climate change while also reducing inequality and making progress on human rights. Climate justice recognizes that climate change does not affect everybody equally, and demands that solutions are centered in the voices and rights of those most affected. A human rights perspective can also strengthen legal actions in the climate struggle, and we are increasingly seeing litigation against states and companies who fail to act on climate change.

5 reasons it needs improving

  • The Paris Agreement doesn’t use the word ‘accountability’ once. There are no mechanisms for holding states who continue to emit alarming levels of CO2 to account. Because the climate pledges of individual states are not legally binding, there are no consequences if states don’t stick to the climate plans they submit under the agreement.
  • States’ climate pledges are not good enough. All the country pledges so far account for only a fifth of what the world needs to do to meet our goal of keeping global warming under 1.5°C.
  • Some of the states who are most responsible for historic and current emissions are refusing to do their fair share to help developing countries meet their climate targets, or deal with harmful effects of climate change
  • Respecting human rights in climate action remains an afterthought. Some of the methods states are suggesting to curb emissions have serious human rights implications - for example, establishing large bioenergy plantations that will subject Indigenous peoples and local communities to displacement.
  • The process of negotiating the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement is taking far too long, particularly when we have so little time to keep temperatures lower than 1.5°C.

5 things that need to happen

  • States parties to the agreement must immediately adopt much more ambitious, human rights-consistent climate targets that are reflected in national laws. Wealthier countries in particular must up their game to avoid overburdening developing countries.
  • All states must take immediate steps to phase out fossil fuels in favour of human rights consistent renewable energy.
  • Everyone, in particularly those most impacted by climate change or the transition to a fossil-free economy, must be able to participate in decisions about climate action that affects them.
  • Actual emissions reductions, not false solutions: yes, we’re talking actual zero emissions, not confusing net-zero targets, problematic carbon markets or technological solutions that violate the rights of Indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • Urgent transfer of technology and finance to support and provide remedy to the countries and people who are most impacted by climate change.

We need these actions right now; otherwise we might as well say au revoir to the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal. That will mean violating the human rights of millions, now and for generations to come.

At Amnesty, we’ve joined Fridays for Future’s promise to #FightFor1Point5 to protect human rights from the worst impacts of climate change.

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Will world leaders keep their promises?