What Is COP21, the Paris Climate Change Conference?

A historic agreement leaving many hopeful, others worried.

AG photographe/Moment/Getty Images

COP21, or 21st Conference of the Parties, was the United Nations Climate Change Conference held in early December 2015 in Paris, France. The goal of this conference was to reach a comprehensive agreement on climate change bringing together all the world’s nations. The main commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012, and was extended to 2020. Scientists now believe that the Kyoto commitments are not enough to turn the tide of climate change.

At the 2014 U.N. Climate Summit in New York, a lot of ground work was done in preparation for the 2015 Paris meeting, and there were high hopes for a brand new agreement.

An agreement was reached by 195 nations on December 12, 2015 in which all participants committed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Highlights of the agreement include:

  • The manner in which countries will reduce their emissions is left to them, but they will need to rapidly increase their reliance on renewable energy sources and gradually phase out fossil fuels.
  • Countries will need to report every five years on the realized emission cuts, and commit to increasingly stringent standards.
  • The agreement recognizes the importance of forests as carbon sinks that mitigate climate change because they draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Support will be provided for programs that seek to increase carbon uptake by forests.
  • The agreement highlights the need to financially assist developing countries in their pursuit of emission reduction goals, and to allow for a more gradual switch to renewable energy sources.

Criticism by environmental groups is focused on the 2 degree goal.  Many argue that we need to keep warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) if we want to protect low-lying communities and other populations especially vulnerable to climate change.

The lack of binding emission limits also irks some, as accountability is not defined strongly in the agreement.

While waiting after the Paris agreement to trickle down in our everyday lives, here are some actions which anyone can take right now:  

Pro Tips to Reduce your Greenhouse Gas Emissions

5 Actions to Slow Down Climate Change

Keeping a Small Carbon Footprint While on Vacation



United Nations Climate Change Conference, 2015. COP21/CMP11.

US New & World Report, 22 July 2015. UN Climate Chief Associated Press Interview.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Beaudry, Frederic. "What Is COP21, the Paris Climate Change Conference?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 14, 2016, thoughtco.com/paris-climate-change-conference-1203706. Beaudry, Frederic. (2016, December 14). What Is COP21, the Paris Climate Change Conference? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/paris-climate-change-conference-1203706 Beaudry, Frederic. "What Is COP21, the Paris Climate Change Conference?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/paris-climate-change-conference-1203706 (accessed December 12, 2017).