What Is the Paris Agreement?


The Paris Agreement is a familiar topic to anyone who keeps up with climate policy — but not everyone may fully understand its ins and outs. If you could use a primer, here’s a quick breakdown of what the agreement is and how exactly it combats global warming.

Paris Agreement: Top Things to Know

Established in 2015 by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement is an international treaty between 196 global parties that aims to limit and adapt to the effects of global warming. The parties, which include the United States and other countries across six continents, pledge to do their part to ensure the global temperature rises no more than 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, with a preferred goal of no more than 1.5 degrees. While maintaining a 1.5-degree ceiling won’t completely counteract the effects of climate change — which include rising sea levels, food scarcity, and harm to ecosystems and national economies — experts believe they will be less severe than would be experienced if global temperatures were to rise above that threshold.

Every five years, Paris Agreement members outline their plans for helping achieve this goal in documents called nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In its first NDC, issued in 2016, the U.S. outlined an intended goal of slashing its greenhouse gas emissions by more than a quarter below its 2005 GHG numbers by the year 2025. An original signatory of the Paris Agreement, the U.S. withdrew from it under the Trump administration, but has rejoined following the election of President Biden. With a renewed commitment to climate action, the U.S. is expected to release an updated NDC this year. Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator, and the first person to hold the newly-minted role of White House Climate Advisor, says federal agencies will collaborate to “develop the most aggressive NDC that we can.” The Biden administration has already laid considerable groundwork, aiming to make the U.S. economy carbon-neutral by 2050, and outlining a sweeping climate plan in a series of executive actions.

The Paris Agreement encourages cooperation among members in meeting climate goals and holding each other accountable, and helping less wealthy countries finance their climate change mitigation initiatives through the UN’s Green Climate Fund that was established in 2010.

Is the Paris Agreement Working?

Many nations, including China, the U.S., and members of the European Union, have announced promising net-zero goals, however, much work still needs to be done to prevent the worst climate consequences from occurring. According to Climate Action Tracker, the pledges made by nations as of last fall would still result in a 2.1-degree global temperature increase by 2100 — well above the preferred 1.5-degree ceiling. And the effects of a changing climate are being felt already; 2020 was a record year for billion-dollar weather disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires. But all this isn’t to say progress hasn’t been made. In 2015, the planet was headed for a 3.6-degree increase by century’s end, proving that it’s possible to reverse temperature increase through decisive action. To maintain this positive momentum, nations will not only need to implement policies that deliver on their existing 2050 net-zero goals, but set forth even more aggressive targets in their subsequent NDCs.

The Paris Agreement and Solar Energy

Unsurprisingly, renewable energy technologies like solar will play a huge part in making good on the Paris Agreement. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) found that 71% of submitted NDCs include “quantifiable renewable energy targets.” If these targets are realized, global renewable capacity could grow more than 40% by 2030. Companies can do their part to combat global warming by installing solar photovoltaic (PV) systems on their property and limiting their reliance on fossil fuel electricity. Not only will it count toward your organization’s own internal sustainability targets, but solar will provide financial savings by offsetting energy costs. You may also be eligible for tax savings thanks to the recently-extended Investment Tax Credit (ITC), as well as a host of potential state and utility incentives. Check out our roundup of 2021 solar policies across a selection of solar-friendly states to see what incentives might be available in your area.

If you need help sorting out the best ways for your company to go solar, contact us for a free consultation. Not only can we assist you in taking advantage of money-saving incentives, we’ll match your sustainability goals and energy demands with a PV system design that will satisfy your business needs, and walk you through our seamless installation process.