North Carolina Journal of International Law

"Connecting North Carolina to the World of International Law"

Forcing Climate Change: An Agreement Doomed to Fall Short

By: Shawn Johnston

The Paris Agreement has achieved monumental support from the international community regarding climate change.  Since the agreement was negotiated in December 2015, “194 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change members have signed the treaties, 125 of which have ratified it.”[1]  These actions certainly demonstrate international approval of a concerted effort to protect the climate.  However, the idealistic intentions of the international agreement lack both the standards and the requisite enforcement required to realize meaningful impact.

World leaders hold hands as the Paris Agreement is passed

The Paris Agreement offers a consensus for worldwide climate goals, but it fails to define the national contributions necessary to accomplish them.    The main goal of the agreement is to keep “global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”[2]  The agreement attempts to achieve this result by mandating Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs) submissions from each of its signatories.[3]  INDCs are nothing more than a nation-state’s self-imposed emissions goals.  The leniency of INDCs has undoubtedly helped the Paris Agreement earn a bevy of support from the international community.  Regardless, the policy is highly unlikely to bring about the change intended by the agreement.  In fact, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions has explained, “[a]nalyses of the INDCs submitted by countries conclude that, while they move us closer to the 2-degree goal, they are not ambitious enough to achieve it.”[4]  The inadequacy of INDCs are further exacerbated by the fact that they are completely unenforceable.  The Paris Agreement does not outline any penalties for non-compliance.[5]  The end result is an ideological illusion.  Due to an absence of leadership and accountability, the agreement’s actual impact is destined to fall short of its stated intentions.

In order for effective climate change to occur throughout the globe, the international community needs a forceful leader to stand up for the cause and enforce standards that will actually make an impact.  Attempts to effect change through collaborative agreements have proven impotent because organizations like the UN refuse to address the problem with teeth.  This timid leadership trivializes the entire agenda.  Unfortunately, nothing will change until the ideology is pushed by leadership that is willing to do whatever necessary to curb climate trends.  This leadership can come from one nation state or it can come from a band of allies.  No matter where it comes from, however, it must be backed by the requisite force to change global behavior.  The extent of this force is not currently known because enforcement has never been entertained.  It’s possible that simple sanctions could be enough to promote compliance.  Otherwise, more aggressive measures like blockades, regime change, or targeted destruction of environmental contaminant may be necessary.  Ultimately, nothing can be taken off the table.  Leaders of the climate change initiative must be willing to go to war over emissions standards.  Though a climate war might seem like a radical concept, there may not be a worthier justification for armed conflict.

Throughout history, war has been waged over territory, resources, ideology, and a host of other causes.  Often, such undertakings are controversial because the resulting loss of life outweighs the ends achieved.  But a war to preserve the planet could never amass enough bloodshed to justify the alternative.  Our current climate trends are risking the life of countless generations.  The stakes cannot get any higher.  The international community clearly realizes this.  If nothing else, the widespread support of the Paris Agreement demonstrates an understanding of the consequences at stake.  The international community needs aggressive leadership to capitalize on this approval, seize the initiative and instill non-negotiable standards that can make an impact.  If such a leader emerges, the stringent standards will undoubtedly expose actors who are not serious about climate change initiatives.  Force will be necessary to hold them accountable.  The amount of force used certainly should never exceed what is absolutely necessary, but the fate of the planet demands the availability of all means of enforcement necessary.


[1] Press Release, European Commission, Paris Agreement to enter into force as EU agrees ratification, U.N. Press Release IP-16-3284 (Oct. 4, 2016), http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_ _en.htm [https://perma.cc/7Z2Z-EZ5F].

[2] Paris Climate Agreement Q&A, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, https://www.c2es.org/international/2015-agreement/paris-climate-talks-qa [https://perma.cc/3PAP-3LEE] [hereinafter Q&A].

[3] Mark Kinver, COP21: What does the Paris climate agreement mean for me?, BBC News (Dec. 14, 2015), http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35092127 [https://perma.cc/GM2Z-5N9F].

[4] Q&A, supra note 2.

[5] Id.

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