Paris COP21: Can Everybody Win?


On December 12, 2015, 195 countries came together in Paris, France and took a large step forward in the fight against climate change. 1 Nations and representatives from all around the world negotiated and agreed on a plan to combat global warming and climate change. 2 The agreement’s primary purpose is to reduce global emissions so as to keep global temperature rise to less than two degrees Celsius in this century. 3 Some world leaders, including President Barack Obama, have hailed the agreement as “historic” 4 and people are quick to point out the successes and points of optimism surrounding the deal. 5 However, questions about the agreement’s effectiveness remain, especially about how well it addresses environmental and climate justice.

The agreement is widely criticized because it is not binding on countries and contains no enforcement mechanism. 6 Beyond that, however, many analysts and activists are concerned that the agreement does not consider climate change’s impact on the world’s most vulnerable communities. After all, climate change has already disproportionately affected certain vulnerable populations. 7 For example, rising sea levels, food scarcity, extreme heat, urban heat islands, drought, air pollution, and even human security and safety are all impacts of climate change. 8 However, these burdens are not shared evenly amongst the world’s populations. Rather, the risks associated with climate change’s impact are increased for developing nations and poor communities, in both rural and urban areas. 9

The Paris Agreement has been criticized for not addressing those populations’ needs. For example, a women’s rights group and stakeholder group of the UN’s Framework Convention for Climate Change, argued that promoting gender equality, along with other fundamental rights, should have been included in provisions explaining the agreement’s purpose. 10 Doing so, it is argued, would have encouraged that climate actions account for the rights, needs, and perspectives of women, and encourage women’s participation in decision-making.

Indigenous groups also advocated for their interests to be represented in the climate change agreement, and were disappointed when they were not. 11 Climate change poses a particular risk for indigenous groups because their livelihoods, cultures, and traditional knowledge are all dependent on the environment. 12 Given that the well being of indigenous peoples across the globe, from the Arctic Circle, to the American Southwest, to the South American rainforests, the lack of recognition and inclusion of indigenous rights in the agreement is troubling.

Climate justice concerns and the Climate Change Agreement’s shortcomings do not stop there. Elderly populations were not mentioned in the agreement, despite their increased vulnerability to heat-related illnesses and other extreme-weather events. 13 Poor people, too, were left out of the agreement, yet they are impacted by climate change more severely than wealthier populations. 14 They are also less likely to be able to adapt to or to mitigate the effects of climate change. 15

It is hard to deny that the climate change agreement is a good thing. Almost 200 countries collectively agreed to address a global problem and without the agreement, all of the world’s populations would certainly be no better off. However, when close to half of global emissions since 1990 have come from just the United States, China, Russia, and the European Union , there is no binding mechanism in the agreement, and the agreement does not even mention the world’s most vulnerable populations, who are already feeling the impacts of climate change, it is difficult to say that the agreement is really a win either.

1. Historical Paris Agreement on Climate Change: 195 Nations Set Path to Keep Temperature Rise Well Below 2 Degrees Celsius, UNITED NATIONS FRAMEWORK CONVENTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE NEWSROOM (Dec. 12, 2015),
2. Id.
3. Id.
4. Colleen McCain Nelson, Obama Hails “Historic” Agreement on Climate Change, WALL STREET J. (Dec. 13, 2015, 10:54 AM),
5. Sewell Chan, Key Points of the Paris Climate Pact, N.Y. TIMES (Dec. 12, 2015),
6. S.A. Miller, Obama-backed Paris climate change deal disappoints environmentalists, THE WASH. TIMES (Dec. 13, 2015),
7. Jess Worth, Climate Justice – The Facts, NEW INTERNATIONALIST MAGAZINE, Jan. 1, 2009, available at
9. Id.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                10. WGC FP, A Reality Check on the Paris Agreement: Women Demand Climate Justice, WOMEN GENDER CONSTITUENCY (December 12, 2015),
11. Renee Juliene Karunungam, Indigenous Women: Respect our Knowledge and Tradition, FAIR OBSERVER: MAKE SENSE OF THE WORLD (Dec. 13, 2015),
12. Id.
13. Fiona Harvey, Paris climate change deal to weak to help poor, critics warn, THE GUARDIAN, (Dec. 14, 2015, 12:29 PM),
14. Id.
15. Field, supra note 8 at 3.
16. Mengpin Ge et al, Six Graphs Explain the World’s Top Ten Emitters, WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE (Nov. 5, 2014),



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