International Law Bulletin / 07_2019


The Challenges of implementing the Paris agreement 2015


The Foundation of International Legal Studies of Professor Elias Krispis and Dr Anastasia Samara-Krispi being aware and well-informed on international developments on environmental and climate change issues, after the successful presentation of the Environmental Volume in Cyprus “Environmental protection from Human Intervention revisited” on a review of the developments and sensitive issues emerging after the signature of the Paris Agreement presents herewith  an article about the current situations arising from the implementation of the Agreement.

Dr Anastasia Samara-Krispi,President of Professor Elias Krispis Foundation for International Legal Studies

Research by Augusta-Maria Kaloudi, LL.M Student in Public International Law, Legal Assistant of the Krispis Foundation.


In 2015, the Paris Agreement, which will succeed the Kyoto Protocol in 2020, was signed under the UNFCCC that charts a fundamentally new course in the global effort against climate change and aims at restoring equality again with a different reading and interpreting of the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which ultimately never comes to the point of abolishing or removing the obligations of developing countries. Everyone has a -lesser or greater- responsibility. The Agreement supports a more pragmatic approach of to the acknowledgement of the national circumstances and capacities of all countries[1]. The obligation to protect the environment and to prevent pollution becomes more specific and each state participates in the effort according to its forces by undertaking corresponding programs. The NDCs = Nationally Determined Contributions leave to states a great margin of flexibility and are exclusively state-defined thus self-judging.

The issue that received the most attention in the Paris negotiations concerned the legal character of parties' nationally determined contributions (NDCs): would the Paris Agreement make NDCs legally binding or not? But the choice between 'shall' and 'should' cropped up in many other parts of the agreement as well, including the provisions addressing adaptation, finance and transparency.

With respect to NDCs, the European Union in particular sought a formulation that would allow them to characterize NDCs as legally binding. The option of requiring parties to 'achieve' their NDCs was not possible, since this would have given NDCs the same legal status as the Kyoto Protocol's emissions targets, which many countries had already rejected - not only the United States, but also big developing countries such as China and India. So the European Union instead sought to include a requirement that countries 'implement' their NDCs, which differs from an obligation to 'achieve' because it constitutes an obligation of conduct rather than result[2].


Therefore an urgent need for quality, transparency and substance control on the one hand and compliance with common standards on the other is required. Who will judge whether a state has taken the right measures? Typical control is exercised by the COPs but because of the soft law and mostly declaratory character of the climate Agreements it depends on each state’s good faith. Indirectly the control over pollution takes place through complex means including economic and technical parameters not known to the public. Also in each state there must be a separation of obligations into prevention, rehabilitation and adaptation. The Capacity-building part seeks to restore environmental justice and enhance the ability of individuals, organizations and institutions in developing countries as well as those parties with economies in transition to identify, plan and implement ways to mitigate and adapt to climate change through knowledge, tools, public support, scientific and political know-how. The greater the overall ambition, the greater the need for differentiation in efforts between developed and developing countries, as well as for increased financial resources to support these ambitious efforts.

     Paris Agreement of 2015 also promotes joint strategies to reduce emissions of gaseous pollutants, in particular greenhouse gas emissions. Paris Agreement highlights the collective responsibility of the parties. On one hand, it says "reflecting equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances;" on the other, it states that "developed country Parties should continue taking the lead by undertaking economywide absolute emission reduction targets," and that "developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances."[3]The richer, developed states also have to support the developing countries in their green transition in accordance with the rule of "common but differentiated responsibilities". The US under President Donald Trump announced their intention in July 2017 to withdraw from the Paris Agreement for this particular reason apart from being doubtful on the sources of the rise of the global temperature. However, the nation remains a party at least until November 2020, which is as soon as possible to legitimately ask to withdraw from it. The US objections, in addition to questioning the greenhouse effect in general and the fact that the cause of climate change is based on human activity, lie in the fact that China (the world's second largest polluter) is still considered a developing country in talks on climate change, and this means that it should not follow the same rules as the developed countries.  Experts make it clear that on the basis of today's data, the planet is heading for a 3 ° C temperature rise away from the 1.5 C target. Clearly, with current commitments, states have to cooperate and adapt the economic and energy policies to achieve more ambitious climate targets by 2020.

      In this context, an optimistic development is that at the recent COP24 meeting, all members of the G20 reaffirmed their commitment to the Paris climate agreement, with the exception of the United States, of course. The United Kingdom is committed to reducing carbon emissions to "clean zero" by 2050, making it the first G7 country to adopt such a commitment. In one of her final acts as prime minister, Theresa May has been commissioned on the basis of a climate report to strengthen the government's climate action by raising reactions. At the same time, the French government is working on an energy and climate bill with the same goal for 2050. France and the United Kingdom are the largest countries that have so far set such an ambitious goal in legislation. France accounted for about 75% of its electricity from nuclear power, which according to previous governments means lower carbon dioxide emissions. The government has pledged to reduce its nuclear share to 50% by 2035.

        In spite of optimistic engagements and mobilizations around the world for the climate, such as student walks, Fridays for Climate, campaigns as well as the general vision of sustainable-green growth, the legal framework of the Paris Agreement is of a treaty within the definition of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, but not every provision of the agreement creates a legal obligation. It contains a mix of mandatory and non-mandatory provisions relating to parties' mitigation contributions, as well as to the other elements of the Durban Platform, including adaptation and finance[4]. The highly declaratory character with no clear commitments and without the existence of a clear ratification mechanism for taking on international responsibility for polluting activities creates a legal uncertainty. The Paris Agreement does not have a compliance mechanism. Consensus was not reached at the Paris Conference on establishing an effective Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) system[5]. The only factor that keeps a certain balance are the strong procedural obligations for the parties. However, an important shift in this direction from soft to more legally binding context is introduced through the Regulations of the EU which is a pioneer in promoting green growth by implementing the Goals of the 7th European Environment Program with the distinctive title: "Living well within the limits of our Planet ". The program is also in line with the policies of the UNEP Agenda 2030, and in particular Goal 13 concerning climate change, with emphasis on the part of adaptation to the ever changing weather and environmental conditions.

     European countries were the first to address climate change (ozone layer, acid rain) due to the industrial revolution and location in the temperate zone between the two poles. Europe has the largest agricultural production (wine, olives) due to the soil and the protective provisions contained in the various regulations of the European regulations. In the US, the use of pesticides and other chemicals is not controlled, with the result that food is burdened with all kinds of ingredients. Changing climatic conditions changes the microclimate and affects agriculture. There are many movements in Europe and globally, because the survival of producers depends on the crop, which depends on the climate. Climate change affects the quantity and the quality of one of the most important economic factors which is indeed agriculture and therefore has a great impact on the largest part of the population. Apart from agriculture, countries such as Greece depend on sunshine and relatively stable weather conditions because this favors tourism and many outdoor activities related to local economy. Further emphasizing the ties between human rights and climate change, in July 2017 the Human Rights Council further adopted by consensus a new resolution on human rights and climate change, calling for a panel discussion on the adverse impact of climate change on efforts to realize the rights of the child and related policies[6] .The Paris Agreement is remarkable, not only for the manner in which it has attempted to redress the rights of vulnerable parties, but also its inclusion of human rights and recognition of civil society action.

         Nowadays, the challenges for the implementation of the Paris Agreement are visible at the level of political will and intention to comply with the established emission limits for air pollution, as the Agreement leaves a wide margin for self-determination to States to determine at their discretion their National Determined Contributions (NDCs).  But the narrow context of the common but differentiated responsibilities principle as the transition to the new era requires adaptation of the national strategies in the field of the environment without the pretentious deviation from the obligations of control and accountability through the periodic reports of developing countries, in particular India and China, which are now the largest industries and therefore the greatest pollutants of the world after the US. The United Nations scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in 2018 gave the most urgent and comprehensive appeal to global governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stop global warming. But scientists have warned that "limiting global warming to 1.5C requires rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society."

        Sustainability with the three-fold of economic growth, social progress and environmental protection requires overcoming obsolete conflicting perceptions and acceptance of an interdependent relationship between economy and ecology evolving into global conscience and leading to the most desired behavioral transition.



  • The Paris Agreement 2015
  • Human Rights Council Res. 32/U.N. Doc. AIHRC/32/L.34 (June 28, 2016)
  • The legal character of the Paris Agreement, Daniel Bodansky, Review of European, Comparative International Environmental Law
  • Climate Justice and the Paris Agreement, by Jennifer Huang, JAEL
  • Implementing the Paris Agreement, Achievements and Constaints, by Wang Ruibin
  • The Legal Form of the Paris Climate Agreement: a Comprehensive Assessment of Options, by Sandrine Maljean-Dubois, Thomas Spencer and Matthieu Wemaere
  • The Paris Agreement: Analysis, Assessment and Outlook by Ralph Bodle, Lena Donat and Matthias Duwe


[1] Climate Justice and the Paris Agreement, Jennifer Huang, JAEL, Vol.9, No.1

[2] The legal character of the Paris Agreement, Daniel Bodansky, Review of European, Comparative International Environmental Law

[3]The  Paris Agreement 2015, art. 2 & 4

[4] The legal character of the Paris Agreement, Daniel Bodansky, Review of European, Comparative International Environmental Law, 25(2), 142-150.

[5] Implementing the Paris Agreement, Achievements and Constaints, Wang Ruibin, China International Studies 63 (2017): 83-99

[6] Human Rights Council Res. 32/..., U.N. Doc. AIHRC/32/L.34 (June 28, 2016)