Paris Climate Agreement Explained: How we'll deliver on the promise of ambitious climate action

The global community signed an historic agreement today at the Paris climate talks to tackle the threat of climate change and accelerate the shift to clean energy around the world. This is a momentous breakthrough. Nearly 200 countries have pledged to reduce their climate change pollution, strengthen their climate commitments every five years, protect people living on the front lines of climate impacts, and help developing nations expand their clean energy economies.

Most important, this agreement sets ambitious goals. It calls for holding global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with a first step of keeping us at no more than 2 degrees of warming.

Reaching the 2-degree target is essential to prevent catastrophic climate impacts, but scientists say it still leaves us open to dangerous levels of rising seas, food insecurity, and extreme drought. It would make the Marshall Islands and other island nations uninhabitable and expose countless vulnerable communities to deadly harm. Keeping the temperature rise at no more than 1.5 degrees will sustain these communities and create a brighter, more stable future for our children and grandchildren.

This is an ambitious goal, but the past two weeks in Paris confirm it is achievable.

In Paris, an action agenda emerged out of a groundswell of climate action from cities, regions, businesses, investors, trade unions, and many others. Mayors and governors described what they are already doing to reduce carbon pollution and how they plan to do more. Multinational corporations said they are cutting carbon pollution across their operations. Financial institutions reported that renewable energy is a better investment than fossil fuels. Leaders from developing nations explained that clean energy is helping to generate economic growth and bring people out of poverty. And thousands of people from all over the world stood up for climate action. This groundswell has the backs of our national leaders in implementing ambitious climate policies. This is what climate leadership looks like.

The low-carbon transition is already underway. Now the Paris agreement calls on us to return home, pick up the pace, and go faster into the clean energy future. And it gives us the tools to hold our government leaders accountable.

In China, that means building on the country's commitment to implement a cap-and-trade program and increase non-fossil-fuel energy sources to 20 percent of total energy by 2030. In India, that means leapfrogging over dirty fossil fuels and using clean, renewable, and efficient energy to power its growth. Meeting the country's solar mission alone will create 1 million jobs. India has already vowed to increase renewable energy sixfold by 2020 and to set mandatory efficiency standards for buildings by 2017.

The United States can also build on existing progress. All 50 states are on track to implement the Clean Power Plan for limiting carbon pollution from power plants; they need to focus on doing this through energy efficiency and an increase in wind and solar. We can continue to improve fuel efficiency standards and move to a combination of electric vehicles and smarter growth in transportation. Next up, we'll work on getting existing oil and gas facilities to reduce their methane emissions and on the phase-out of fossil fuel development on federal lands and in federal waters. And U.S. businesses should continue not only to improve their own energy efficiency but to band together to advocate for stronger clean energy and climate policies.

This work won't be easy. The Paris agreement -- and our obligation to future generations -- demands that nations transform how we think about electricity, transportation, industry, methane from fracking, HFCs from air conditioning, agriculture, and other contributors to climate change. It also requires helping developing countries face the challenges of poverty alleviation, energy equity, and climate justice. And here in the United States, it entails going up against entrenched fossil fuel interests and those politicians who persist in denying climate change.

These are significant hurdles, but citizens, businesses, and political leaders around the globe have made it clear that we support strong climate action. This momentum will carry us forward. And the Paris climate agreement and action agenda will provide the road map.

Irina Bokova, the director-general of UNESCO, said at an NRDC event last week, "When we speak about climate, we speak about humanity." Our future is at stake here. For the human community to thrive, we need a stable climate. The Paris agreement and commitments will help ensure that our families, nations, and societies can flourish for generations to come.

Written with Emily Cousins

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Susan Casey-Lefkowitz

Chief Program Officer

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