The adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 moved the world a step closer to avoiding dangerous climate change. The aggregated individual intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) are not yet sufficient to be consistent with the long-term goals of the agreement of ‘holding the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C’ and ‘pursuing efforts’ towards 1.5°C. However, the Paris Agreement gives hope that this inconsistency can be resolved. We find that many of the contributions are conservative and in some cases may be overachieved. We also find that the preparation of the INDCs has advanced national climate policy-making, notably in developing countries. Moreover, provisions in the Paris Agreement require countries to regularly review, update and strengthen these actions. In addition, the significant number of non-state actions launched in recent years is not yet adequately captured in the INDCs. Finally, we discuss decarbonization, which has happened faster in some sectors than expected, giving hope that such a transition can also be accomplished in other sectors. Taken together, there is reason to be optimistic that eventually national action to reduce emissions will be more consistent with the agreed global temperature limits.