Will the Paris Agreement Make a Difference?

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The Regulatory Review features leading experts’ views on the success of the Paris Agreement.

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The earth’s climate is changing. While people in some parts of the world may benefit from warmer weather, global warming is actually life-threatening for millions of other people in many parts of the world. Among other things, climate change can cause more severe weather patterns, increase the intensity of natural disasters, and lead to species extinction.

Climate change cannot be tackled by any single nation or even a group of several nations. It is a global problem that requires commitment from the vast majority of the world’s countries. And yet, with so many varying viewpoints, interests, and cultural differences across these countries, securing a broad international agreement on climate change has proven exceedingly difficult for more than twenty years.

Earlier this month, though, more than 190 nations came together in Paris to discuss how to solve or at least reduce the adverse effects of climate change. The result of that gathering, called the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, was the Paris Agreement. The Agreement will take formal effect once ratified by at least 55 nations that make up at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The primary goal of the Agreement is to reduce enough of these emissions “to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2˚C above pre-industrial levels” – and even ideally to 1.5˚C.

Each participating country is tasked with developing its own plan to address climate change and then is supposed to promise to follow that plan. However, as heartening as it is to see so many nations agree that climate change is a serious global threat, neither the individual countries’ plans nor many of the substantive portions of the Agreement itself are legally binding. If a country violates its commitments, the Agreement provides for no formal repercussions.

In the aftermath of the Paris negotiations, The Regulatory Review has assembled four leading legal experts from Penn Law and the Wharton School to assess the outcome of these historic talks. This series will feature essays on the Paris Agreement, each offering astute insights about the prospects for progress and suggesting some differing answers to the question of whether the Paris Agreement will actually do much to stop climate change.

The Legal Structure of the Paris Agreement

December 21, 2015  |  Jean Galbraith

Much of the content of the Paris Agreement is not new. As Dan Bodansky has aptly observed, “in essence, what the Paris Agreement does is tie a treaty ribbon around…key elements of the [earlier] Copenhagen Accord.” In other words, the Paris Agreement is built largely from recycled materials, but with a new legal design.

The Paris Agreement Delivers a Champagne Moment

December 22, 2015  |  Eric W. Orts

There are times when we should pause, take a break from the stream of bad news that tends to dominate headlines, and celebrate. The Paris Agreement addressing climate change deserves celebration. As my mother might say, it is “a champagne moment.

When Management-Based Regulation Goes Global 

December 23, 2015  |  Cary Coglianese

The Paris Agreement signals an historic global consensus about the problem of global warming. As a solution to a major public problem, though, the Agreement is actually much less historic. It follows an approach that has been widely applied by national and local governments to address less global problems. That approach is called management-based regulation, and what we know about it at the domestic level offers insight into what is likely to follow from the Paris Agreement.

Reasons for Optimism Following the Paris Agreement

December 24, 2015  |  Sarah E. Light

I want to suggest…that the Paris Agreement provides reasons for optimism about the role that international negotiation, and emerging norms both domestically and abroad, can play to combat this most urgent, global problem. In particular, I offer three reasons for optimism.