The 2015 Paris Agreement: Interplay Between Hard, Soft and Non-Obligations

Journal of Environmental Law, Vol 28 Issue 2, pp 337-358, 12 July 2016

The 2015 Paris Agreement, a product of a deeply discordant political context rife with fundamental and seemingly irresolvable differences between Parties, is an unusual Agreement. It contains a mix of hard, soft and non-obligations, the boundaries between which are blurred, but each of which plays a distinct and valuable role. This article identifies various defining elements of legal character and tabulates the core provisions of the Paris Agreement across a spectrum from those that conform most closely to hard obligations to those that are best characterized as ‘non-obligations’. It explores political drivers for the carefully calibrated mix of hard, soft and non-obligations in the Paris Agreement, as well as the dynamic interplay between them, and their critical importance in delivering an agreement acceptable to all.