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03/12/2016

Paris Agreement: Saving face and negating Trump

Climate & Environment

Paris Agreement: Saving face and negating Trump

Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the Paris Agreement during his presidential election campaign.

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The Paris Agreement has to come into force as soon as possible in order for the EU to maintain its tag as a climate policy trailblazer and to counter the effects of a possible Trump presidency. EurActiv’s partner Der Tagesspiegel reports.

The COP21 climate deal, struck last December in Paris, is on its way towards breaking all UN records when it comes to how fast an agreement enters into force. The main reasons appear to be the wish to save face and Donald Trump.

On Wednesday (21 September), the Bundestag hastily backed the law that would allow Germany to ratify the deal, and the bill will get its second and third reading today (22 September). Tomorrow, the Bundesrat will then vote on whether to accept the ratification bill.

The almost rushed process seems designed to allow German President Joachim Gauck to sign off on the law before the beginning of the COP22 summit in Marrakech in November. One would have to go back to the end of the last decade, when Germany was dealing with the financial crisis, to find examples of when the Bundestag and Bundesrat last acted so quickly.

Berlin panicked slightly after the G20 summit at the beginning of this month, as the globe’s biggest emitters, the US and China, ratified the deal. A further 31 states, including Brazil and Mexico, formalised their ratification procedures at the UN summit just held in New York. Before this, 29 countries had already completed the process, meaning countries accounting for nearly 50% of emissions have now ratified the agreement.

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It appears to be plain sailing from here on in, because when countries accounting for 55% of emissions have ratified, the agreement will come into force 30 days later. The other proviso, that 55 countries ratify, has already been met.

If the EU had been as quick to act as China and the US, then this 55% marker would have been met just by those three alone. But the Union has struggled to get its act together. The European Commission has indicated that all 28 member states should be ready by the beginning of next year, but a more specific date has not been provided by the executive.

After the G20 summit, it must have dawned on Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that the EU could disappear into complete insignificance when it comes to climate policy, as the agreement could actually come into force without the bloc’s contribution.  France has campaigned for months for the process to be sped up, after the good work done last year to put together an agreement.

Furthermore, Germany’s environment ministry has tasked its legal team with trying to find a way for the Bundesrepublik to be able to ratify the deal without the EU’s involvement, but this currently seems an unlikely option.

The real reason for all this rush could be put down to the genuine possibility of Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton in the race to the Oval Office. Trump has long denied climate change and has threatened to withdraw the US from the Paris deal if elected.

This would be much more difficult for the Republican candidate if the agreement were already in force, as he would have to wait between one and four years to back out of the deal.

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The one-year period would apply if the US were to completely extract itself from the UN climate change framework of 1992. However, Trump could undermine the entire Paris deal in the US by repealing all of Barack Obama’s climate legislation.

Trump has already threatened to abolish the country’s Environmental Protection Agency, which is tasked with regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

However, the silver lining to this somewhat pessimistic scenario is that even if the US were to withdraw somewhere down the line, the Paris deal would not be invalidated if it were already in force. So the EU and the remaining countries that have not yet ratified know what they have to do.

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