COP21’s New Year’s Resolution: The Paris Agreement & Accountability

The adoption of the Paris Agreement on 12 December 2015 was without a doubt a historic moment. After two weeks of non-stop negotiations, 196 countries reached a consensus, marking the world’s first universal and legally binding agreement on climate change.

Watch the moment that COP President & French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, French President Hollande, and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced the passing of the resolution inside the plenary session here


Now, weeks later and into the new year, questions are arising of how the agreement will be implemented. Will countries actually follow through? How exactly is this agreement legally binding, and how will compliance be assessed, if at all? In other words, will this agreement actually make a difference or is it just another document full of empty promises?

One of the key objectives of COP21 was global action, primarily because climate change and its effects, including rising temperatures, are a global problem. For this reason, much of the Agreement is based on good will. The individual targets for each country are not actually legally binding; they are voluntary. This was a mechanism to encourage participation from all parties.

What is legally binding, however, is reporting on and reviewing national performance. The text of the Agreement also includes a section on “facilitating implementation and compliance.” Article 15 of the text establishes “a mechanism to facilitate implementation of and promote compliance with the provisions of [the] Agreement.” In addition to the creation of a compliance committee, which will report to the COP annually, there is a five-year review mechanism in place. Countries will submit their individual, national plans to combat climate change, but their work does not end there. They will be required to revise their plans every five years as well.

These are just a few of the mechanisms in place that help form the framework for accountability to the Agreement. They will help in allowing us to monitor the effectiveness of the Agreement. This, added to the fact that all 196 countries are a part of the deal, is definitely a strong place to start in 2016. Compliance is imperative to any agreement, but especially to this landmark Paris Agreement. Without compliance and mechanisms to assess it, progress cannot be made. It will be interesting to see further details on transparency and compliance emerge at COP22 in Marrakesh.


Rija Rasul is a first year student in the Master of Development Practice (MDP) program.  Rija is one of four students in the MDP program attending COP21 as members of the Republic of Kiribati delegation. Her research interests include climate change and renewable energy, human rights, and international security and terrorism.


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