5 questions you’ve wanted to ask about the Paris Agreement

© Yann Caradec/Flickr Creative Commons

The Eiffel Tower illuminated for the U.N. climate talks in 2015. (© Yann Caradec/Flickr Creative Commons)

Editor’s note: This post was updated on June 2, 2017. 

Nearly 18 months ago, the international community came together in Paris to sign the largest global agreement on climate change to date — including a strong endorsement of nature’s role in addressing climate change. With the Paris Agreement back in the news, Human Nature takes a look at five things you need to know about the historic international accord.

I’m in favor of action on climate change, but isn’t there a tradeoff between following the Paris Agreement and growing the economy?

Quite the opposite. Business leaders agree that the Paris Agreement is good for the American economy. In a series of open letters to the president, chief executives from many of America’s largest corporations — from Apple to Cargill to Coca-Cola to Walmart — have advocated for continued American participation in the Paris Agreement. Why? A strong Paris Agreement means that all countries will be working toward the same climate goal, leveling the playing field for American manufacturers and creating new markets abroad for climate-friendly technology like solar panels and energy-efficient appliances. Corporate chiefs also argue that the agreement provides needed certainty for planning long-term investments and will reduce climate-related risks. In fact, acting now on climate change is our best insurance policy against the most harmful impacts of climate change.

We have seen this before. When the world agreed in the late 1980s to phase out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, American chemical manufacturers led the charge to develop ozone-safe replacements, and their business benefited as a result. Today, American companies are poised to lead on climate action worldwide, and the Paris Agreement represents an opportunity to grow their businesses.

© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos

A farmer in Ethiopia surveys crops decimated by drought. (© Peter Essick/Aurora Photos)

I care about climate, but the destruction of nature concerns me more. Why should the Paris Agreement be a priority? 

One of the main causes of global climate change is the destruction of natural ecosystems — for example, deforestation and unsustainable land conversion for agriculture. Deforestation destroys 13 million hectares (32 million acres) of forest every year — an area the size of North Carolina — adding more carbon to the atmosphere than the sum total of all the cars and trucks in the world. That’s because the carbon stored in dense tropical forests, peatlands and mangroves gets released when they are burned, cleared or degraded. In total, solutions like halting tropical deforestation and allowing forests to regrow naturally can contribute at least 30 percent of the reductions or removals needed to reach the targets set in the Paris Agreement. Yet, nature-based solutions currently receive only 2 percent of all climate funding — a mismatch that amounts to a big opportunity for climate action and conservation.

To address the importance of nature-based solutions, the Paris Agreement strongly endorses REDD+, the U.N. mechanism focused on reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing nations. The success of efforts like REDD+ are crucial in maximizing nature’s potential as a climate solution. Conservation International has protected 373,832 hectares (923,759 acres) of critical forests under the REDD+ program to date, and the Paris Agreement is an important means for continuing and building on this success.


Donate to support CI’s work to address climate change through nature.

I think we need to find common ground — isn’t the Paris Agreement a partisan issue?

In recent months, political leaders from both parties have spoken up in support of the Paris Agreement. George Shultz, secretary of state under U.S. President Ronald Reagan, has been a vocal advocate for the Paris Agreement. Current U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sees a benefit to staying in Paris, according to news reports. Even major American coal companies have advocated to stay in the agreement. Their reasoning: The United States must keep its seat at the table in order to advocate American interests on the world stage.

Separately, a group of prominent Republicans have presented a Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends — effectively a revenue-neutral tax on carbon that sends money directly back to Americans. And a bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill reauthorizing American action to reduce deforestation and the huge greenhouse gas emissions it produces.

Meanwhile, polls in the United States have been remarkably consistent on Paris, showing levels of support between 69 and 71 percent — including a majority of voters from both parties.

© Charlie Shoemaker

The cloud forests of Kenya’s Chyulu Hills help the city of Mombasa better deal with drought. (© Charlie Shoemaker)

Wouldn’t a U.S. exit be the end of the Paris Agreement?

According to Christiana Figueres, the former head of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change who led work on the Paris Agreement, the accord doesn’t rely on the participation of any single country. In a recent interview, Figueres — also a Lui-Walton Distinguished Fellow at CI — argued that the actions of any single country cannot threaten the progress made by the Paris Agreement. “One country can choose to park itself, if you will, on the sidelines of a highway that is very quickly taking us toward decarbonization,” Figueres told PRI. “But [that] does not change the direction of travel of all the rest of the countries.”

Paris was such a success in part because of its near-universal acceptance by all the nations of the world. Only two countries did not sign on to Paris — Nicaragua, which was protesting for an even stronger agreement, and Syria, which is in the grips of war. Everyone else found something to like in Paris, even countries that in the past have opposed or questioned global efforts to address climate change. The strength of the Paris Agreement derives from its flexibility to allow countries to establish their own targets, while creating processes to hold them accountable and enhance action over time.

Already two of the biggest players in the Paris Agreement — the European Union and China — have committed to stay in the agreement no matter what the U.S. does. Meanwhile, countries have moved forward with plans and policies to meet their climate targets. India is drafting plans to phase out new sales of gasoline-powered vehicles in favor of electric cars by 2032. China committed earlier this year to scrap plans for over 100 coal-fired power plants. Even within the U.S., individual states such as California have pledged to meet and even exceed their contributions to the goals set out in Paris, regardless of what the federal government does.

© David Doubilet

Island nations like Kiribati are particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. (© David Doubilet)

But is the agreement that important anyway?

The Paris Agreement is the most inclusive global agreement on climate change to date. Previous accords like the Kyoto Protocol focused on cutting emissions from the developed world. Paris, in contrast, set a global goal to which every country has agreed to contribute. While it does not bind any one country to any one solution, it focuses all players on the same challenge.

Indeed, according to experts, the collective contributions put forward so far do not yet add up to what is needed to meet the global goals. But the agreement was always designed to be a starting point, not an ending point, and experts point to provisions in the Paris Agreement that allows for its continual improvement. “The Paris Agreement was built to be both flexible and resilient,” said CI climate policy expert Maggie Comstock. “Countries and businesses will continue to take meaningful action because they get that climate action is not only smart for the planet — it can be smart for their businesses as well.”

Shyla Raghav is Conservation International’s climate change lead.

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Further reading


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  4. Joe says

    How does one party decide the Paris agreement is good. Then another party gets in and votes against it.
    As a country Congress should vote on it. President should not be able to decide for a whole country. 90% is for it and 10 per cent against it but, we still pull out.
    If he decides to go to war with Korea we should just do it
    I don’t think so.

    1. Merry says

      Even if Trump refuses to join the Paris Agreement, not all USA citizens agree, and many of us are doing what we can to conserve energy and do what we can to benefit our Mother Earth. Some of us have solar panels to provide energy without pollution to the environment, and have green areas to faciitate oxygen production, and habitats to provide safe havens for various forms of wildlife. The National Wildlife Federation has given us a certificate designating our yard as a certified wildlife habitat. In a city neighbourhood, we have opossums, turtles, raccoons, and many species of birds, along with the Nephila clavipes spiders that I am helping breed in the greenhouse. I would like for our president to sign the Paris Agreement, but he is averse to doing that, probably because it takes effort to do the right thing and make changes that need to be made, and he wouldn’t get the credit for having originating it. Is there any way that individual USA States can opt in to join the Paris Agreement, regardless of the President’s avoidance of the responsibility?

      1. Merry says

        Delete my question. It’s not going to be answered anyway. Think there were
        three questions, it doesn’t take half a day to answer three questions. That
        is simply the Big Ignore.

      2. Steve K says

        That’s the cool thing about the Paris agreement. A state, city, or individual can join, although, of course, you couldn’t actually sit at the table. You could take your comment, put it into a letter and send it to an organization with more access.

    2. Ron Martin says

      Until I see real proof that man made things are changing the temperature of Earth I will continue to think it is a lie! In the agreement there is a lot of Tax Payer money being sent to European Countries! Tell me what for?

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  6. Paul Middleton says

    the paris climate deal was a massive scam. do you enjoy the self elected bureaucrats ripping off the poor. climate change figures was faked by the EU for political reasons to get them power. there is real scientists now working on the climate issue to see if it is real. the eu selected lots of different research and picked fro each one to give them figures that was fake. so they could CHARGE stupid amounts of money not to fix anything but to make themselves rich taking 400 billion every year from america which would have crippled the poor and american buisinesses. PARIS CLIMATE DEAL was a get rich quick scheme. why would you put your name to it. Only reason you would if is if you yourself is going to get rich from it.
    or if your a democrat.
    scientific teams in the united kingdom are doing TRUE research. and have found multiple errors with the Bureaucrats paris climate deal. also while america was damned to pay out billions and cut back on its coal burning putting up prices for energy for the poorest in community CHINA was allowed to POLLUTE AS MUCH AS IT WANTS. WITH NO climate carbon taxes to pay. like america had to. china was welcome to Pollute the world freely. so tell me is that ok with you also. are you also putting your name to that too.
    PRESIDENT TRUMP. THE elected president of america. made the correct choice REALIZING THE WHOLE THING WAS NOT GOING TO HELP POLLUTION WHAT SO EVER and was ONLY going to build up the pensions of the bureaucrats of the EU. but they are 1 off because trump is not stupid and the uk is not stupid and they are working out if the EU made these calculation on purpose and why china was allowed to pollute while america would have s many restriction put upon it. it would have hurt every american.


    1. Lori says

      According to this quote: “One country can choose to park itself, if you will, on the sidelines of a highway that is very quickly taking us toward decarbonization,” Figueres told PRI. “But [that] does not change the direction of travel of all the rest of the countries.” I SAY: It does not change the direction of the country on the sidelines, either. Just because your best player is waiting in the dugout, doesn’t mean you can’t play the game — and win.

    2. Truthseeker777 says

      Don’t forget about India too! That country was as China completely exempt from haveing to follow any of the “clean air” rules that America was burdened under. The whole idea of global warming was an attempt to create yet another strangle hold on Americans further implementing the globalist dream of a NEW WORLD ORDER with the unelected elite as tyrannical rulers over us. There is NO global warming! It’s all lies! The Polar bears aren’t in decline. There were approximately 5,000 polar bears in North America in the 1950s and now there are more than 25,000.

    3. Tyler says

      Citation please. Because I can link several resources which are all reputable sources. I wonder if you can say the same…

  7. Levenberg says

    It is wonderful that Trump opted out of the Climate Change agreement since the only country forced to obey the rules were the United States. In the agreement China could do as it pleased. What kind of agreement is that. The only one forced to comply was the United States. Every other country would comply only voluntarily. They did not have to commit to anything. The US would produce less and China would produce more. And the United States would give millions of dollars to other countries. That kind of agreement would not reduce anything. Did you read the agreement? You need to read the agreement yourself and not let “He said She said govern your thoughts.

    1. B says

      The US would give up billions yearly not millions but you are spot on. Fact remains that all these leftists don t see is that any state city or whatever here in the US is already doing things about pollution. We should not have to pay countries that will do little to curb theirs. Its an outright insult.

      1. Larry McCarthy says

        What the retreating of glaciers around the world dose to “Climate Change. What the melting glaciers is doing is stabilizing the balance between the carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere and earth’s land and seas temperture.then once stabilize we’ll have a “New climate norm. I love this plante earth. Even without mankinds help earth heals its self.

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  17. Larry McCarthy says

    The retreating of glaciers around the world dose to “Climate Change.What the melting glaciers is doing is “stabilizing the balance between tha “carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere and earth’s land and seas temperture (oceans absorbs carbon dioxide) Then once stabilize we’ll have a “New” climate norm. I love this planet earth.Even withouts mankinds help the earth heals its self.

  18. Larry McCarthy says

    What the retreating of glaciers around the world dose to “Climate Change. What the melting glaciers is doing is stabilizing the balance between the carbon dioxide in earth’s atmosphere and earth’s land and seas temperture.then once stabilize we’ll have a “New climate norm. I love this plante earth. Even without mankinds help earth heals its self.

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  21. Karl Strahm says

    Anyone denying climate change is a fool. Anyone that believes climate change is man made is even a bigger fool. Just recently I noted two research scientists theorized that polar bears survived a major polar ice melt some 130,000 years ago by eating the remains of large whale carcasses that washed up on shorelines. Great theory but what caused the polar ice melt? Canada contributes 1.6% of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere with China contributing approx. 40%. while their economy continues to thrive as they bring more coal fired power plants on stream raising emissions, Canada’s is struggling and our infamous Prime Minister Trudeau is proceeding with a tax grab under the guise of a Carbon tax assessment. So called manmade climate change is the greatest fraud ever perpetuated by our scientific world whose predictions are based on fudged computer models that allow them to drain vast sums of government funds from taxpayers.

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