As many as 170 countries are expected to sign the Paris Agreement on climate change today in a symbolic triumph for a landmark deal that once seemed unlikely but now appears on track to enter into force years ahead of schedule. U.N. officials say the signing ceremony today will set a record for international diplomacy: Never before have so many countries inked an agreement on the first day of the signing period. Here are some of the key elements:
The objective of the agreement is to keep the global temperature rise "well below" 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) compared with pre-industrial times. At that level, scientists believe the worst effects of climate change can be avoided. The agreement also includes an aspirational goal of limiting the temperature rise to 2.7 degrees F (1.5 degrees C). Temperatures have already risen by almost 1.8 degrees F (1 degree C) since the Industrial Revolution.
Countries are required to set national targets for reducing or reining in their greenhouse gas emissions. Those targets aren't legally binding, but countries must report on their progress and update their targets every five years. The first cycle begins in 2020. Only developed countries are expected to slash their emissions in absolute terms. Developing nations are "encouraged" to do so as their capabilities evolve over time.
There is no penalty if countries miss their emissions targets. Instead, the agreement relies on transparency rules to motivate countries to fulfill their pledges. All countries must report on their efforts to reduce their emissions.
It's possible to withdraw from the treaty, but not in the first three years after it enters into force. There's also a one-year notice period, so the earliest a country could drop out is four years after the agreement has come into effect.
The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn't require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the agreement itself, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to provide $100 billion annually in climate finance by 2020.
Loss and damage
In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing "loss and damage" associated with climate-related disasters. The United States long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage caused by extreme weather events. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.