BRUSSELS, Sept 30 (Reuters) – European Union states agreed on Friday on a fast-track, joint ratification of the Paris accord to combat climate change, pushing the landmark global pact to the brink of entering into force.
The 2015 Paris deal will guide a radical shift of the world economy away from fossil fuels. Friday’s agreement by environment ministers from all EU 28 member states marks a rare political breakthrough for the bloc at a time of uncertainty over Britain’s departure and discord over the migration crisis.
"All member states greenlight early EU ratification of Paris Agreement: What some believed impossible is now real," tweeted European Council President Donald Tusk, whose home country Poland had been the main state resisting such a swift accord.
European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete hailed a "historic" decision and said the deal answered criticisms that the EU had lost leadership on climate change. "In difficult times, we get our act together," he said.
December’s Paris Agreement, by almost 200 nations, aims to slash greenhouse gas emissions by shifting away from fossil fuels in order to limit global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times.
EU approval is a milestone because it would push the deal over the threshold required for ratification, of nations representing at least 55 percent of global emissions. China and the United States, the top emitters, ratified the pact this month.
The decision by the EU, which accounts for about 12 percent of global emissions, needs approval by the European Parliament in a vote on Oct. 4. That in turn has to be endorsed by ministers, a process that could be done in a day.
Once the Paris Agreement reaches the 55 percent threshold, it will formally enter into force after 30 days.
Cementing the accord before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 would make it harder to challenge if Republican Donald Trump, who has opposed it, beats Democrat Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter.
So far, 61 nations representing 47.8 percent of emissions have ratified. India, with 4 percent, is set to ratify on Sunday.
Poland sought concessions for its coal-fired economy ahead of Friday’s special gathering, so EU environment ministers found a way to break with normal procedure and lock collectively into the Paris accord.
"This is a success. Polish interests will be secured. We will carry out a climate and energy policy based on our own resources, our own situation," Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko said.
The EU shortcut, dubbed "institutional creativity" by France’s minister, ultimately hangs on trust that each of the 28 will follow through with their own ratifications. If they do not, those who have gone ahead could be stuck with fulfilling the promised emissions cuts of the bloc as a whole.
Canete said the notion that some parliaments might not ratify the accord is "a scenario I do not think is possible".
Still, when EU regulators unveiled plans in July for spreading the burden of the bloc’s climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels, Poland objected to its target.
Paris sets out a goal of phasing out greenhouse gas emissions sometime between 2050 and 2100 as part of efforts to limit heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
Germany, Hungary, France, Austria, Slovakia and Malta – collectively representing 4.39 percent of global emissions – have individually ratified the Paris pact within the EU.