The European Union today (30 September) overcame fears over parliamentary sovereignty to secure a fast-track deal paving the way for the bloc to ratify the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The deal between environment ministers at an emergency meeting will allow the EU to ratify the Paris Agreement, without every member state having previously ratified it at national level.
Without it, the bloc would have missed a 7 October deadline and suffered damage to its reputation as a climate change leader.
“They said Europe is too complicated to agree quickly. They said we had too many hoops to jump through. They said we were all talk,” said jubilant Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete.
“We are reaching a critical period for decisive climate action. And when the going gets tough, Europe gets going.”
Slovakia, which holds the rotating Presidency of the EU, has identified 7 October as the target date for the EU to formally ratify the agreement.
It called today’s extraordinary meeting of environment ministers in a desperate bid to get member states to back the fast-track deal ahead of a planned European Parliament ratification vote to be held in Strasbourg on Tuesday (4 October).
The deal was secured with language stressing the European Council’s guiding role. There was further wrangling to secure language in the conclusions that stressed the fast-track deal was a one-off for the Paris Agreement and was not going over the head of national parliaments.
There were further concerns that the EU ratification taking place before all governments had formally ratified the Agreement could set a precedent for other international deals, such as TTIP, the draft EU-US free trade agreement.
Poland and Italy had looked to leverage the looming deadline to win changes to the draft Effort-Sharing regulation, which sets out the share of emissions reductions each EU member state must make to a bloc-wide target.
Both wanted agreement that the regulation could only become law with the unanimous backing of member states, but both backed down. Italy wanted to be able to carry over a greater share of emissions reductions from regular measuring periods to the next period than the European Commission proposal currently allows.
euractiv.com understands that such changes, after the Commission had proposed legislation, was unacceptable. Any amendments to the bill would have to be won in the Council, where it would be subject to a qualified majority vote.
World leaders made a landmark agreement in December last year to cap global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. The pact enters into force 30 days after 55 countries, accounting for 55% of global emissions, formally ratify the Paris Agreement.
The world’s two largest emitters, the US and China, have inked the deal, heaping pressure on the EU, a self-styled climate leader, to follow suit. India and Canada are expected to ratify next week, bringing the threshold, currently at about 48% from 61 countries, closer to 53.88%.
The EU as a whole accounts for 12% of global emissions. If it does not ratify before the threshold is surpassed, it would miss out on a seat on an influential UN decision-making body shepherding the next step of the Agreement at the 7 November COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.
Once MEPs ratify the Paris Agreement on Tuesday, the EU will be able to ratify the deal and bring the Agreement into force by taking it over the emissions threshold.
While some countries such as Slovakia and France have already ratified the deal at national level, they are holding back on the formal notification to the UN so that the EU can deposit their ratification as one bloc.
As last minute wrangling continued into the afternoon, Poland had said it wanted to ratify the Agreement separately to the EU. Polish diplomats held two crunch meetings with Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete before ultimately backing down.
Poland could theoretically have ratified the deal on Thursday (6 September) following a vote, and submitted it to the UN at a point when its emissions share would trigger the agreement.
Sources said that it was important that the EU was the body bringing the deal into force, especially as the bloc was beaten to the punch by the US and China, the first and second countries to ink the Agreement.
“Our reputation was on the line,” Cañete told reporters in Brussels.
If a deal had not been struck, there were concerns that France, which hosted the landmark climate conference, would ratify separately to the EU and grab the glory of being the country to trigger the Paris Agreement.
While some diplomats claimed such a move would be illegal, others admitted there was nothing to stop France, which has about a 1.2% global emissions share, taking such a step.
Speaking before the 9:30AM meeting, France’s Ségolène Royal said that all countries agreed with the fundamental goals of the Paris Agreement.
The fact that countries had focused on details of procedure in the four hour and 15 minutes before the deal was done was a sign governments were taking the deal seriously, she told reporters this morning.