Blog Post

COP21: An important turn on a long journey

The Paris Agreement has been hailed as a turning point and a huge success in the international fight against climate change. Its big achievement is that it brings tackling climate change back into the sphere of the politically possible. But implementation will be by no means easy. I base my optimism on four observations:

By: and Date: December 14, 2015 Topic: Energy & Climate

1. From protocol to architecture

The Paris Agreement acknowledges the impossibility of agreeing on a meaningful international protocol for the very complex and costly climate issue. Several important countries (including the US Senate and likely also China and India) would not have signed a treaty that sets out binding emission targets for their economies.

The Paris Agreement instead develops a flexible architecture which strikes a new balance between national sovereignty and international commitments. Its purpose is primarily to build trust between the parties, by turning climate negotiations from a one shot-negotiation into a repeated game. If developed countries see that developing countries are unambitious in keeping emissions low, they might not be willing to make good on their commitments on climate finance. And if developed countries do not come up with sensible mechanisms on ‘loss and damage’ or ‘technology transfer’, some developing countries might not deliver on their national contributions.

2. From top-down to bottom-up

It proved impossible to share an emissions budget between all parties, as this would lead to a zero-sum game among 195 countries. The new approach to converge over time to meaningful mitigation measures looks much more realistic. And at least in political terms it has resolved the post-Kyoto deadlock.

3. From developed countries to all parties

When the Kyoto protocol was agreed, more than half of global emissions were produced by developed countries. Now about two thirds of global emissions are produced by the rest of the world. So a crucial breakthrough of the Paris Agreement is that all parties now have to contribute to mitigation. In addition, non-industrialized countries are invited, but not obliged to provide financial transfers (such as climate finance, loss and damage compensation, capacity building).

4. From stagnation to a new momentum

One success of the Paris Agreement is that it reignites momentum in fight against climate change. Several countries, including Canada and Japan, have turned their back on the Kyoto protocol, and economic elites in the EU and elsewhere were worried that other countries would never join the expensive fight against climate change. This has changed with the Paris Agreement. The true break-through of 2015 is that each party learned that all the others were also committed to mitigating emissions. This makes it politically much easier to conduct efficient national climate policies (emission trading).

But it is also clear that the Paris Agreement alone will be insufficient to combat climate change. The architecture is there, but now the house has to be built accordingly. It will require continued effort by all parties to achieve the targets of the agreement.

There are three areas to work on:

  1. The Paris Agreement includes a lot of loose ends in terms of referring to future decisions. For example, an Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement will have to develop further guidance on what exactly the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) will look like – which is crucial for making national ambitions comparable. If no strong agreement can be found on those important details, the Paris Agreement will evaporate.
  2. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions will remain costly for the foreseeable future. So each country individually will be better off if it is less strict on its own emissions. The same holds for costly commitments on climate finance or ‘loss and damage’ compensation. Any attempt to cheat or openly deviate from the already committed contributions needs to be implicitly penalised by the international community, for example in terms of losing credibility in other international negotiations. This means that if countries turn a blind eye to offenders, the Paris agreement will quickly become meaningless.
  3. The Paris Agreement builds on the idea that every five years all governments will have to ramp up their ambitions. This will be increasingly expensive, as reaching the 2°C (let alone the 1.5°C) target is still far off. There is a risk that at some point in the future the pressure to make progress decreases, and thereby the entire agreement gets lost.

Without continued full-hearted support from the highest political level in key-countries, the whole agreement could still fall apart. But the above described risks are not open-ended (and hence certain). Low-carbon technologies are becoming cheaper. When producing the remaining fossil fuels is more expensive than relying on non-fossil fuels, the climate-game will be ultimately won.

In this way, the Paris Agreement brings preventing uncontrollable climate change back into the sphere of the politically possible.


We present below the crucial parts of the Paris agreement, with special regard to the level of commitment (shall/should) and which parties it commits (all/developed/developing countries). What appear to us the three most important areas are underlined. This summary is obviously highly subjective.

Article 4 – Mitigation

  • Each Party shall prepare nationally determined contributions (NDC) in terms of mitigation and financial transfers
  • All Party’s NDCs will be reviewed every 5 years
  • Each Party’s successive NDC will represent a progression beyond the Party’s then current NDC and reflect its highest possible ambition
  • Developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets.

Article 5 – Sinks

Article 6 – Emission Trading

  • international transfer of mitigation outcomes to achieve NDCs shall be voluntary

Article 7 – Adaptation

  • Highlights the importance of adaptation, calls for cooperation, and requests (shall) each party to engage in adaptation

Article 8 – Loss and damage

  • Refers to Warsaw Mechanism, no strong commitments

Article 9 – Climate finance

  • Developed countries shall meet existing obligations.
  • Developed countries should take the lead in scaling up and climate finance should be additional.
  • Developed countries shall report on the provided climate finance every two years.
  • Green climate fund not mentioned in agreement

Article 10 – Technology transfer

  • Refer to Technology Mechanism, no strong commitments
  • Support, including financial support, shall be provided to developing country Parties for technology transfer

Article 11/12 – Capacity building

  • Developed country Parties should enhance support for capacity-building actions in developing country Parties.

Article 13 – Transparency

  • Each Party shall regularly provide the following information: emission statistics and report on implementation of NDCs
  • Developed country Parties shall, and other Parties that provide support should, provide information on financial, technology transfer and capacity-building support
  • The above information submitted by each Party shall undergo a technical expert review which shall also assess the consistency with harmonized guidelines that shall be developed

Article 14 – Global Stocktake

  • The Parties shall undertake its first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter

Article 15 – Compliance Mechanism

  • An expert-based committee shall provide annual reports.

Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint. Anyone is free to republish and/or quote this post without prior consent. Please provide a full reference, clearly stating Bruegel and the relevant author as the source, and include a prominent hyperlink to the original post.

Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

COP 21 RIPPLES: What are the key elements of an adequate global response?

The Dialogue focuses on technology, finance, industrial transformations and the political economy, which are identified by COP21 RIPPLES as key leverage points for triggering transformation.

Speakers: Michel Colombier, Marta Torres-Gunfaus, Henri Waisman and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: October 22, 2019
Read about event More on this topic

Past Event

Past Event

Brussels Policy Dialogue: Insights for EU and Member States’ Climate Agenda

The event is a policy dialogue organised under the project, 'COP21: Results and Implications for Pathways and Policies for Low Emissions European Societies'.

Speakers: Petya Icheva, David Morales, Artur Runge-Metzger, Oliver Sartor, Marta Torres-Gunfaus, Vincent Van Steenberghe and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: June 7, 2019
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Getting better all the time: The benefits of learning for decarbonisation

The technological development will dramatically impact decarbonisation cost. In this blog post, the author suggests that national decarbonisation strategies should put a special emphasis on the benefits of learning.

By: Georg Zachmann and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 16, 2019
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

External Publication

Learning for decarbonisation

This external publication, put together in the framework of the COP21 RIPPLES Consortium, makes the case that national decarbonisation strategies should put a special emphasis on the benefits of learning. Accordingly, countries should start early to deploy and develop low-carbon technologies, concentrate on promising technologies, exploit individual regional strength and bear in mind the opportunities and constraints of the national innovation system.

By: Alexander Roth and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 8, 2018
Read article More by this author


EU should pay member states to get rid of coal

The European Union should act to ensure the continued transformation of its energy system, and encourage member states to overcome their dependence on coal for supplying electricity. Helping coal-mining regions with the transition should require €150 million per year – a mere 0.1% of the total EU budget – and the EU would not even need to establish a new fund to support it.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: December 5, 2017
Read article Download PDF More on this topic

Policy Brief

The carbon buyers’ club: international emissions trading beyond Paris

The effort to define rules for international emissions trading faces the strong desire of nation states to develop their own climate policies, which collides with the need for tradable units in one country to be equivalent to tradable units in another country. To overcome this dilemma Georg Zachmann proposes a club of carbon-buying countries that would regulate only imported mitigation outcomes.

By: Georg Zachmann and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: April 4, 2017
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Trump’s Energy Policy: America First, Climate Last?

What will the new US administration mean for the fight against global warming? Climate change is not even mentioned in the ‘‘America First Energy Plan’’, and Simone Tagliapietra fears a reversal of recent positive steps.

By: Simone Tagliapietra and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 28, 2017
Read article More on this topic More by this author

Blog Post

Could Europe come up short in the race to the Marrakesh climate conference?

One year after the Paris climate conference, Europe struggles to advance its own ratification process of the agreement. However, a fast-track EU ratification procedure could enable the Paris Agreement to enter into force in time for the Marrakesh climate conference.

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Energy & Climate Date: September 28, 2016
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Speech by Miguel Arias Cañete on EU’s climate and energy policies after COP21

Speech held at Bruegel event on "How will the Paris agreement impact EU climate and energy policies?", on 8 February 2016.

By: Miguel Arias Cañete and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: February 8, 2016
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

When will the EU switch away from coal?

In the US, electricity producers are switching from coal to less polluting natural gas thanks to lower gas prices. However in the EU, the carbon price has been too low to make natural gas competitive with coal.

By: Georg Zachmann and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: December 21, 2015
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

Too early to celebrate: What markets tell us about the credibility of the Paris climate agreement

The price of carbon emissions has decreased markedly since the first draft of the Paris Agreement has been released. The decrease in the price of futures is the largest observed over the last two months.

By: Domenico Favoino, Guntram B. Wolff and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: December 15, 2015
Read article More on this topic

Blog Post

COP21: Climate action needs a new global architecture

A strong political momentum on climate action has arisen worldwide on the way to Paris. However private and public investors will only conduct the necessary long-term investments if COP21 manages to put in place a sustained political commitment of all relevant parties to the 2°C pathway. Such a commitment requires a new global architecture for climate action.

By: Simone Tagliapietra, Georg Zachmann and Bruegel Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 26, 2015
Load more posts