The Paris Agreement in the 2020s: Breakdown or Breakup?

46 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2019 Last revised: 5 Feb 2021

See all articles by Noah Sachs

Noah Sachs

University of Richmond - School of Law

Date Written: October 3, 2019


Just four years after adoption of the Paris Agreement, there are serious warning signs that the Agreement could unravel in the 2020s. Not only did President Trump’s 2017 withdrawal announcement damage the universality and reciprocity of the Agreement, but many parties are not on track to reach their own voluntary carbon reduction pledges.

This Article shows how and why the Paris Agreement could falter. I explore the recent stressors on the Agreement and challenge the dominant scholarly narrative that I call the “peer pressure proposition” — the view that international peer pressure will encourage parties to ramp up their pledges over time. Highlighting the flawed assumptions of the peer pressure proposition, I provide a more nuanced, pragmatic account of the prospects for cooperation under the Agreement in the 2020s.

While no outcome can be predicted with certainty, I argue that policymakers will plausibly face a Breakdown scenario in the next decade, where the Paris Agreement lapses into ineffectiveness, or even a Breakup scenario, where the Paris Agreement collapses and parties withdraw or disengage. Either scenario would be ecologically devastating, and I explore the implications of both scenarios for international law and the climate change regime.

Keywords: climate change, Paris Agreement, energy, international law

JEL Classification: K33, K32

Suggested Citation

Sachs, Noah, The Paris Agreement in the 2020s: Breakdown or Breakup? (October 3, 2019). Ecology Law Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1, 2019, Available at SSRN:

Noah Sachs (Contact Author)

University of Richmond - School of Law ( email )

203 Richmond Way
Richmond, VA 23173
United States
804-289-8555 (Phone)

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