• The United States has rejoined the Paris Agreement – a global commitment to fight the climate crisis.
  • Joe Biden issued an executive order when his presidency began on 20 January 2021.
  • America will be rejoining only months after it formally left the deal.
  • The decision will mean all UN members will be signed up to the accord.

This article was updated on 21 January 2020.

US President Joe Biden has announced the country's return to the Paris Agreement, just hours after his inauguration. He signed an executive order that will see the US rejoin after a 30-day notice period.

With the US back on board, all 197 signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will have ratified the historic deal.

In June 2017, President Donald Trump announced the US was withdrawing from the deal, but the terms of the agreement meant the withdrawal only took effect in November 2020.

Four months after the US announced its withdrawal, Syria signed up to the deal at the COP23 climate change talks in Bonn, Germany – leaving America as the only country opposed to the pact. The announcement from Syria was seen as largely symbolic, given the challenges faced by the war-torn country.

What is the Paris Agreement?

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. It is responsible for the increase in extreme weather events, as well as an unbroken series of hottest years on record. Indeed, environmental concerns and the threat posed by climate change have been a consistent feature of the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for the last decade.

In recognition of this, 179 countries and the EU spent two weeks in Paris during December 2015 hammering out the final wording of an agreement to keep global temperature increase well below 2°C and if possible, below 1.5°C.

The reduction in temperature can only be achieved through a significant reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases. Known as COP21, (The 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), it was one of the largest gatherings of world leaders ever seen.

Everyone who attended COP21 made emission-cutting pledges. These are known as “intended nationally determined contributions”, or INDCs for short. At the time, the US pledged to cut U.S. climate pollution by 26-28% from 2005 levels.

China’s target is to reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030 at the latest, lower the carbon intensity of GDP by 60% to 65% below 2005 levels by 2030, and to increase the share of non-fossil energy carriers of the total primary energy supply to around 20%.

The EU plans to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 on 1990 levels.

What’s the World Economic Forum doing about climate change?

Climate change poses an urgent threat demanding decisive action. Communities around the world are already experiencing increased climate impacts, from droughts to floods to rising seas. The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Report continues to rank these environmental threats at the top of the list.

To limit global temperature rise to well below 2°C and as close as possible to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, it is essential that businesses, policy-makers, and civil society advance comprehensive near- and long-term climate actions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The World Economic Forum's Climate Initiative supports the scaling and acceleration of global climate action through public and private-sector collaboration. The Initiative works across several workstreams to develop and implement inclusive and ambitious solutions.

This includes the Alliance of CEO Climate Leaders, a global network of business leaders from various industries developing cost-effective solutions to transitioning to a low-carbon, climate-resilient economy. CEOs use their position and influence with policy-makers and corporate partners to accelerate the transition and realize the economic benefits of delivering a safer climate.

Contact us to get involved.

When did it come into force?

The Paris Agreement came into effect on 4 November 2016, after the minimum threshold was met - 55 countries representing at least 55% of global emissions.

For countries that join after this point, the Agreement comes into force 30 days after the country "deposits its instrument of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession with the Secretary-General."

The latest scheduled gathering of the parties – COP26 – was due to take place in Glasgow, Scotland, in November 2020. It was postponed by 12 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

World carbon dioxide emissions 2009 2019 region.
Emissions have been rising steadily between 2009 and 2019.
Image: Statista

What happens if a party changes its mind?

Once a party has joined the agreement, they cannot begin the process of withdrawal for three years, but there is no financial penalty for leaving.

The Paris Agreement signifies years of work in trying to combat climate change. In 1992, countries joined an international treaty, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. In 2005, the Kyoto Protocol became a legally binding treaty. It committed its parties to internationally binding emission reduction targets. It ends in 2020, and COP21 is designed to take its place.