Going for Gold: Complying with the Paris Agreement in the 2024 Olympics

Every four years a new city takes on the coveted endeavor of hosting one of the world’s most anticipated sporting events: the Olympics. The 2024 Summer Olympics are rapidly approaching and Paris has adopted this feat, determined to make history by shifting environmental priorities to center stage.[1] The Paris 2024 Olympic Games vow to be carbon neutral and the first international sporting event to offset more emissions than it creates.[2] Recognizing the potential threat of climate change to strip the international community of a tradition dating back to ancient Greece, the International Olympic Committee and Paris plan to place “sustainability and legacy at the core of [the] project.”[3] As a country that has ratified the Paris Agreement, France has invited the world to scrutinize its compliance with its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) on an international stage.[4] This blog details the compliance problems posed by the Paris 2024 Olympics, arguing why “naming and shaming” is the best compliance mechanism, and discusses how noncompliance poses a threat to the legitimacy of the international climate regime.

Compliance Issues Posed by Paris 2024

In 2015, France became one of the first major nations to ratify the Paris Agreement, solidifying its role as a champion for climate initiatives.[5] The Paris Agreement is a legally binding treaty that seeks to unify countries in a commitment to limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius to achieve climate neutrality by the end of the century.[6] The Agreement requires each party to commit to an individualized plan for curbing their greenhouse gas emissions.[7] These commitments are known as NDCs.[8]

In 2020, the European Union (EU) jointly submitted NDCs for all its Member States, targeting “an economy-wide net reduction from base year emissions, of at least 55% greenhouse gas reductions, without contribution from international credits.”[9] The NDC submission committed France to a 37% reduction in its emissions by 2030.[10]

France is already facing heightened political criticism for its failure to act regarding its climate goals.[11] According to a European Commission Assessment conducted in 2019, France is set to miss its 37% target by 11%.[12] This begs the question of how Paris 2024 poses additional threats to the country’s already fraught compliance issues.

An overarching issue is that the IOC must account for its own actions and those of non-state actors who contribute to the Games’ carbon footprint.[13] Even considering advancements such as using 95% existing or temporary venues,[14] a complete elimination of emissions is virtually impossible. The Paris 2024 organizers have estimated that 1.5 million tons of residual CO2 will need to be offset.[15] The committee plans to achieve this goal by supporting carbon capture and conservation projects worldwide.[16] But many environmentalists have raised concerns regarding the dependability of such conservation and offsetting measures, like planting trees.[17] It is unclear, however, if the committee plans to also pursue additional efforts to reach its goals. In the past, the organizers of the Olympics have achieved offsetting through the purchase of carbon credits.[18] Carbon credits represent the purchase of 1 ton of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere through reduction elsewhere.[19] The organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics purchased over 4.38 million tons-worth of credits to offset those games.[20] However, the credit system has also attracted controversy, as many describe it as a “false sense of accomplishment” and one that operates too slowly to mitigate climate change in a meaningful way.[21] In light of the controversy surrounding the legitimacy of the organizers’ methods to meet their promises, the international community must determine how to hold them accountable.

“Naming and Shaming” as an Enforcement Mechanism

The Paris Agreement has no built-in enforcement mechanisms.[22] While some refer to the lack of enforcement as an “Achilles’ heel,” many argue that it makes the Paris Agreement attractive contrasted with mandated legal repercussions.[23] As displayed by the Whaling in the Antarctic case,[24] victory in court does not necessarily mean a nation’s enforcement-related aims will be realized.[25] Although Australia was victorious in the International Court of Justice, showing Japan violated its obligations under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling,[26] Japan eventually left the International Whaling Commission in its entirety and resumed commercial whaling.[27] In the context of the Paris Agreement, the international community must ensure its efforts to encourage compliance do not drive parties to abandon their commitments. Through accountability highlighting the benefits of achieving carbon neutrality, the international community could see greater success.

The incentive for countries to set and maintain strong NDCs “isn’t fear of being ‘punished’ under the Paris Agreement,” but pressure from their citizens and allies.[28] “Naming and shaming” is therefore a viable enforcement mechanism for the Paris Agreement.[29] Naming and shaming occurs when parties to an agreement publicly point out a co-parties’ wrongs and denounce them.[30] Shaming makes violators vulnerable to criticism as they have a strong interest in maintaining relationships and protecting against negative impacts on future cooperation with their peers.[31] For example, reputational effects have often been cited for compliance with international human rights conventions.[32] Additionally, a study conducted on the practice found that shaming can effectively shift domestic public perception in favor of compliance and ultimately increase the incentive for a political party to honor its country’s agreement.[33] Another study found Swedish citizens viewed their government more negatively after they were presented with international criticism of Sweden’s compliance with its international obligations.[34] Sweden was selected for this study because of its population’s broad support for human rights and climate initiatives and the Swedish government’s desire to be an international leader in those areas.[35]

In the context of the Paris 2024 Olympics, naming and shaming has the potential to be more effective than it is in other contexts. France has long held itself out to be a global climate leader and, given that Paris is the birthplace of the Agreement, the stakes are high. Therefore, like the Sweden example, France will likely be particularly susceptible to naming and shaming as a mechanism to uphold compliance.[36] Indeed, France has already faced a domestic lawsuit by NGOs for failing to act on its compliance with the Paris Agreement, which has put pressure on President Macron.[37] France’s co-parties publicly denouncing any future failings, especially related to Paris 2024, could have a similar and more impactful mobilizing pressure. Thus, in light of the Paris 2024 Olympics, a large burden for enforcing compliance will fall on its spectators: state and non-state actors.

While the international community should remain hopeful that Paris will play by the rules of the Agreement, parties must step up to maintain accountability and legitimacy of the international climate regime when issues arise. This will consist of keeping a watchful eye leading up to the Olympics and analyzing Post-Games Sustainability Reports. At the sight of foul play, it is imperative that co-parties pull their red cards.

  1. See Environmental Ambition, Paris 2024, https://www.paris2024.org/en/a-pioneering-ambition-for-the-environment/ (last visited Feb. 4, 2023).

  2. See Delivering Carbon Neutral Games, Paris 2024, https://www.paris2024.org/en/delivering-carbon-neutral-games/ (last visited Feb. 4, 2023).

  3. Paris 2024, Sustainability and Legacy Report 15 (2021), https://medias.paris2024.org/uploads/2022/01/PARIS-2024-210831-Rapport-Durabilite-et-Heritage-VENG_compressed.pdf.

  4. See Agence France-Presse [French Press Agency], France Becomes First Major Nation to Ratify UN Climate Deal, The Guardian (June 15, 2016) https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jun/15/france-becomes-first-major-nation-to-ratify-un-climate-deal.

  5. Id.

  6. See Paris Agreement to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change art. 2(1)(a), Dec. 12, 2015, T.I.A.S. No. 16-1104.

  7. Id. art. 4.

  8. Id.

  9. Germany & European Commission, Update of the NDC of the European Union and its Member States 8 (2020), https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/NDC/2022-06/EU_NDC_Submission_December%202020.pdf.

  10. Id. at 13.

  11. See Josh Gabbatiss, The Carbon Brief Profile: France, carbon brief (Apr. 13, 2022), https://www.carbonbrief.org/the-carbon-brief-profile-france/ (discussing the political pushback Macron is facing for failing to match his climate rhetoric with legislative action).

  12. Id.

  13. Paris 2024, supra note 2.

  14. Id.

  15. Id.

  16. Paris 2024, supra note 3, at 58.

  17. See, e.g., Charles E. Di Leva & Scott Vaughan, The Paris Agreement’s New Article 6 Rules, Int’l Inst. for Sustainable Dev. (Dec. 13, 2021), https://www.iisd.org/articles/paris-agreement-article-6-rules.

  18. Aaron Smithson, How Sustainable Really Were the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?, The architect’s Newspaper (Aug. 13, 2021), https://www.archpaper.com/2021/08/how-sustainable-really-were-the-2020-tokyo-olympics/.

  19. What are Carbon Credits?, Conservation International, https://www.conservation.org/projects/what-are-carbon-credits (last visited Feb. 18, 2023).

  20. Smithson, supra note 18.

  21. Id.

  22. Dustin Tingley & Michael Tomz, The Effects of Naming and Shaming on Public Support for Compliance with International Agreements: An Experimental Analysis of the Paris Agreement, 76 int’l org. 445, 445 (2022).

  23. See, e.g., id. at 445-46.

  24. Whaling in the Antarctic (Austl. v. Japan: N.Z. intervening), Judgment, 2014 I.C.J. Rep. 228 (Mar. 31).

  25. See UN Court Rules Against Japan’s Whaling Activities in the Antarctic, UN News (Mar. 31, 2014), https://news.un.org/en/story/2014/03/465062; Japan Leaves IWC to Resume Commercial Whaling, Nat. Res. Defense Council (July 1, 2019) https://www.nrdc.org/media/2019/190701-0.

  26. Whaling in the Antarctic, 2014 I.C.J. Rep. at 298, ¶ 247.

  27. Nat. Res. Defense Council, supra note 25.

  28. How Are Countries Held Accountable Under the Paris Agreement?, MIT Climate (Mar. 8, 2021), https://climate.mit.edu/ask-mit/how-are-countries-held-accountable-under-paris-agreement.

  29. See Tingley & Tomz, supra note 22, at 445.

  30. Id.

  31. Robert Falkner, The Paris Agreement and the New Logic of International Climate Politics, 92 Int’l Affairs 1107, 1121-22 (2016).

  32. Jennifer Jacquet & Dale Jamieson, Soft but Significant Power in the Paris Agreement, 6 Nature Climate Change 643, 645 (2016).

  33. Tingley & Tomz, supra note 22, at 459.

  34. Faradaj Koliev, Douglas Page, & Jonas Tallberg, The Domestic Impact of International Shaming, 86 Public Opinion Quarterly 748, 750-754 (2022).

  35. Id. at 750.

  36. See id.

  37. See Elaine Cobbe, Paris Court Finds France Guilty of Failing to Meet Its Own Paris Climate Accord Commitments, CBS News (Feb. 4, 2021), https://www.cbsnews.com/news/paris-climate-agreement-france-court-government-guilty-failing-commitments/; Elaine Ganley, Court Rules France Failed to Respect Its Climate Change Goal, AP News (Feb. 3, 2021) https://apnews.com/article/europe-climate-climate-change-paris-france-108722d3e8bc587d9300ec189b99a07d.

The views expressed in this post represent the views of the post’s author only.