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Target zero: Skeleton of the agreement

A new frame for collective global climate action

Nitin Sethi  |  Paris 

The slogan
The slogan "1.5 DEGREES" is projected on the Eiffel Tower as part of the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France

The Paris agreement and the decisions that the countries took together forms a new framework for collective global action against climate change.

Global target

It sets an over-arching target of keeping emissions in control so that global temperature rise definitely remains below 2 degree Celsius by turn of century and perhaps as low as 1.5 degree Celsius. To do so countries would require to peak their emissions and then push them to taper down. By doing so, by the turn of the century the countries will move to ensure that the net emissions – the set off between how much is emitted and how much emissions are caught in natural soak pits of carbon dioxide like forests – are zero.

Emission Reduction Action

To do so developed countries have to take emission reduction targets, which should ideally but not necessarily be economy-wide unlike under the Kyoto Protocol when it was mandatory. Developing countries too shall take emission reduction actions but they can determine the nature and quantum of these nationally.

The first set of such actions have been already provided by more than 180 countries, called the Intended Nationally Determined Actions. Eventually, by the time the Paris agreement becomes operational in 2020 they shall be called Nationally Determined Actions or NDCs.


The developed countries will be required to provide finance to the developing world for emission reduction actions as well as adaptation. The decisions here require that the funds developed world provides beyond 2020 is upwards of US $ 100 billion annually. But what is classified as climate finance remains dodgy and it would be hard to pin the developed countries down to details or expected new and additional funds. Developing countries too can provide funds they have provided voluntarily to other developing countries.

Between now and 2020

As the Paris agreement kicks off from 2020, there is a five year gap where the existing arrangements continue. No one now expects any great climate action from the developed world in these five years. Some have committed to reduce emissions at a slow business-as-usual rate and that shall continue to happen. This was expected and has happened despite developing countries, including India, demanding that there should be no climate action holiday.


Countries shall be able to provide a country-driven plan for adaptation and seek finance from the developed world for it – not really get it commensurate to ones’ needs though.


Every five years there shall be an assessment of how the emission reduction actions of all countries collectively are stacking up against the goal of keeping temperatures under control. Similarly the stock taking will rather loosely assess the kind and volume of funds being provided by developed countries. These would not be assessed for their adequacy but just a summation of what has been provided.

Informed by this stock-take countries can decide if and how they want to enhance their nationally determined contributions for the next phase of the agreement. But the stock-take will not dictate to countries – rich or developing – how much more they should do in the next round. It would function more like an advisory.


The agreement sets up a technology mechanism to help countries cooperate in developing and deploying cleaner technologies. The mechanism quietly skirts around the issue of intellectual property rights of existing clean technologies. The technology mechanism shall be provided funds but again, whether it is adequate or not is not a question that one can ask anymore.

Market mechanism

Countries that wish to opt in can become part of a global market-based mechanism to reduce emissions. This will now allow a global carbon-trade providing countries chances to take credit for emission reductions against their own targets by paying for it in countries where emission reduction is cheaper to achieve. Such a trade existed earlier in developed countries but could now become a global market place.


A uniform system shall be built for countries to report on what they are doing to fight climate change including how much has been done by each country to achieve its nationally determined contributions. These reports shall undergo a technical expert review. Countries with lesser capacities will be able to get away with lesser reporting and verification. But the expert reports will not lead to any punitive action for non-compliance. The detail rules of this transparency system will be built over time.

Loss and Damage

There shall be a continuing Loss and Damage mechanism which will help countries collaborate to deal with increasing extreme weather events, slow onset climate events and other climate changes that lead to loss and damage. But there is going to be very little money for this and countries have forgone their right to file for compensation or liability in future against this provision.

First Published: Mon, December 14 2015. 00:39 IST