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Oct. 29, 2021

The Paris Climate Agreement: What’s Next and How We Can Meet Our Climate Goals

The Arc de Triomphe is illuminated in green with the words 'Paris Agreement is Done' on Nov. 4, 2016, in Paris, France.
Chesnot / Getty Images
The Arc de Triomphe is illuminated with the words "Paris Agreement is Done" on Nov. 4, 2016, celebrating the first day of the climate agreement.
The Arc de Triomphe is illuminated with the words "Paris Agreement is Done" on Nov. 4, 2016, celebrating the first day of the climate agreement.

For the first time in history, the Paris Agreement brought all nations — including the top emitters of greenhouse gases — together in 2015 to fight the climate crisis. U.S. leadership was critical in getting us there.

  • What does the Paris Agreement do?
  • Is the world on track?
  • Is there anything I can do?

Now, world leaders from approximately 200 countries must present substantive plans for actions their nations will undertake this decade to live up to the commitments they made six years ago. This 'show me' moment takes place at COP26, the global United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12.

In this make-or-break year, the stakes couldn't be higher for the international community to set firm commitments for lowering emissions and taking action on climate. As President Biden and world leaders descend on Glasgow, Earthjustice will be watching and demanding that bold and equitable climate solutions – including the Build Back Better Act – be part of the plans to keep our planet livable.

What to know about the Paris Agreement:

What does the Paris Agreement do?

The Paris Agreement is a historic global climate agreement that came into force in 2016 and has been signed by 197 nations.

Its goal is to hold global temperature rise to “well below 2, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels” and cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by mid-century.

Each country sets its own non-binding emissions reduction targets, known as Nationally Determined Contributions, and outlines the actions they will take to meet the Paris Agreement targets. In 2021, countries will submit their goals for 2030 and their plans to get there. The U.S. has committed to cutting emissions by 50%–52% below 2005 levels by 2030.

The Paris Agreement delivers a powerful signal to business, investors, and communities that the nations of the world are committed to curbing emissions and accelerating the transition to a clean energy economy. It drives public policy and is a clarion call to the financial industry to reassess their bets on fossil fuels and embrace the biggest investment opportunity of the century: renewable energy.

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The closing ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, December 12, 2015.
Mark Garten / UN Photo
The closing ceremony of the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, December 12, 2015.

Are the U.S. and the world on track to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement?

Since the Paris Agreement was signed, there have been signs of progress.

Projected temperature rise by the end of the century has fallen, as the world has begun to shift away from fossil fuels to clean energy. But the UN has warned that even as many countries step up their climate action, “governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

In the U.S., progress was stifled by the Trump administration’s unprecedented assault on our environmental protections. Many states and cities stepped up to take the lead, but they have not moved fast enough. We are in code red and must take systemic action that only governments can enact to meet our goals.

Now, we’re at a turning point. President Biden ran and won on the most ambitious climate platform in U.S. history, and he has taken swift action to undo Trump’s damage and get us back on the right track.

In late October, the Biden administration and Congress agreed to a framework of the Build Back Better Act. If passed, the bill would mark the largest investment in climate and environmental justice in history. It would lay the foundation for a transition to a clean energy future by 2030 in a more just and resilient way. The Build Back Better Act, coupled with important administrative actions, would set the U.S. on firm footing toward our Paris goals and restore U.S. climate leadership.

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What is Earthjustice doing to help reach our climate goals?

Earthjustice is working in the U.S. and around the world to move towards a pollution-free, 100% clean energy future. In this transition, we are working to ensure climate solutions benefit the communities that have borne the brunt of pollution.

We partner with organizations and communities in key countries and regions to establish, strengthen, and enforce legal protections for the environment and catalyze the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. We participated in the initial Paris negotiations as a legal advisor to the Republic of Palau, an island nation that is on the frontline of the climate crisis.

For four years, we used the power of the law to hold the line against the Trump administration’s assaults on our environmental laws, filing nearly 200 lawsuits. Now we have an opportunity to strengthen environmental protections and advance policies that will drive transformative change.

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What can I do?

Call on your members of Congress to support the Build Back Better Act and invest in a sustainable and just future.

The U.S. is back in the Paris Agreement. Now the real work begins to re-establish the U.S. as a global climate leader and move towards a pollution-free, 100% clean energy economy.  We need bold and equitable climate solutions that advance economic, racial, and environmental justice.

President Biden’s plan puts us on the right path by investing in clean energy, zero-emissions transportation, and energy efficient buildings while cleaning up pollution in the most impacted communities.

Congress now has an opportunity to make a once-in-a-generation investment in the future of our country and our planet. The climate crisis is an existential threat, and we're running out of time to act.