Key points of the agreement

Long-term goal: The long-term objective of the agreement is to make sure global warming stays below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Temperatures have already increased by about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) since preindustrial times. To achieve that goal, governments pledged to stop the rise in heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions “as soon as possible.” By some point after 2050, man-made emissions should be reduced to a level that forests and oceans can absorb.

Emissions targets: Countries agreed to set national targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions every five years. More than 180 countries have submitted targets for the first cycle beginning in 2020. Only developed countries must slash emissions in absolute terms; developing nations are “encouraged” to do so as their capabilities evolve. Until then, they are expected to rein in emissions growth as their economies develop.

Reviewing targets: The initial targets won’t be enough to put the world on a path to meet the long-term temperature goal. So the agreement asks governments to review their targets in the next four years and see if they can “update” them. That doesn’t require governments to deepen their cuts. But the hope is that it will be possible for them to do so if renewable energy sources become more affordable, effective.

Transparency: There is no penalty for countries that miss their emissions targets. But the agreement has transparency rules to help encourage countries to actually do what they say they will do. China had asked for softer requirements for developing countries. The agreement says all countries must report on their emissions and their efforts the reduce them. But it allows for some “flexibility” for developing countries.

Money: The agreement says wealthy countries should continue to offer financial support to help poor countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change. It also encourages other countries to pitch in on a voluntary basis. That paves the way for emerging economies such as China to contribute, even though it doesn’t require them to do so. Actual dollar amounts were kept out of the accord, but wealthy nations had previously pledged to give $100 billion by 2020.

Loss and damage: In a victory for small island nations threatened by rising seas, the agreement includes a section recognizing “loss and damage” associated with climate-related disasters. The U.S. long objected to addressing the issue in the agreement, worried that it would lead to claims of compensation for damage. In the end, the issue was included, but a footnote specifically stated that loss and damage does not involve liability or compensation.

Associated Press