The Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Law

(2016) NZLJ 152

5 Pages Posted: 26 May 2016 Last revised: 9 Mar 2017

See all articles by Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2016


This article analyses the Paris Agreement of December 2015 that made progress on climate change. It aims to find how many of the features of the agreement are legally binding and how many of them are “soft” or aspirational. The article concludes that there are binding legal obligations contained in the agreement, although the binding agreement itself makes up only 11 pages of the 30 page document. Many of the binding portion contains hortatory language and qualifiers, rather than the binding language of legal obligation. The negotiating strategy adopted based on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions offered by states meant that the immediate commitments made to mitigate climate change are a long way short of what is required to achieve the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The political achievement in securing agreement in Paris was substantial. Whether that political momentum can be maintained to secure the reductions in anthropogenic emissions that are required in time to combat the problem successfully is unclear. At this point is is speculation as to what will occur. The Paris Agreement is more of a political agreement to keep trying than a set of binding legal obligations. But it does contain sufficient binding obligations that could in time make a difference.

Keywords: Paris Agreement, Climate Change, International Environmental law

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Palmer QC, Sir Geoffrey, The Paris Climate Change Agreement and the Law (May 1, 2016). (2016) NZLJ 152. Available at SSRN:

Sir Geoffrey Palmer QC (Contact Author)

Victoria University of Wellington - Faculty of Law ( email )

PO Box 600
Wellington, 6140
New Zealand

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