It’s a deal.
The Paris Agreement on climate change is expected to meet all criteria to enter into force Wednesday when the European Union submits its ratification papers to the United Nations.
The move brings to a close an effort by the Obama administration, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and others to set the global climate deal into motion before key leadership in certain countries—most obviously the United States—changes hands. In finally moving the deal over the finish line that called for 55 countries totaling 55 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, European leaders sought to reassert their climate leadership after months of internal wrangling.
“They said Europe is too complicated to agree quickly,” E.U. Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said in a statement Friday after environment ministers from all 28 member states granted informal approval that the European Union could join without waiting for members to ratify the agreement. The European Union had previously warned that its internal processes would not allow ratification before 2017.
“They said we had too many hoops to jump through,” Cañete said. “They said we were all talk.”
László Sólymos, minister for the environment of Slovakia, which is currently president of the E.U. Council, said the European Union “showed its responsibility, its engagement and interest in slowing down the warming of our planet.” Calling the European Union “one of the founders of the Paris agreement,” he said it was important that it ratify quickly.
The European Parliament is now expected to formally endorse the deal tomorrow in Strasbourg, France, and submit official papers to the United Nations on Wednesday.
Environmental groups celebrated the development, but some said the European Union was shamed into accelerating ratification.
“Clearly the issue was that the E.U. felt under pressure,” said Wendel Trio, director of the Climate Action Network Europe. After the United States and China joined the deal last month, a 2016 entry into force seemed more likely than not, even without Europe’s involvement. The European Union—which almost single-handedly kept the Kyoto Protocol afloat through a second commitment period and pushed for ambition throughout 21 years of negotiations—faced a crisis of self-image, Trio said.
“Unfortunately, in the E.U., many people [are] still in the old era of thinking they are the front-runners and the only ones that are acting on climate change, and the rest of the world is far behind,” he said. “This ratification process has proven that that is not really the case, that the rest of the world with the Paris Agreement has recognized that we all need to move forward.”
Europe’s speedy entry ensures the union a seat at the table when nations meet for their next round of U.N. negotiations in Marrakech, Morocco. If the agreement takes force this year, Marrakech will be the first official meeting of parties to the Paris Agreement.
But it doesn’t mean that all of the bloc’s emissions can be counted toward the deal’s 55/55 threshold. Only seven E.U. countries have completed their domestic processes so far, including France, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Portugal and Malta. The World Resources Institute (WRI), a Washington, D.C.-based environmental think tank, estimates that those countries will bring an additional 5 percent of the world’s emissions into the deal.
But that’s enough. Sixty-one countries have already joined the Paris Agreement, and the European additions bring that number to 68. Meanwhile, India’s ratification of the deal yesterday brought the global emissions covered by parties up to 52 percent of the world’s total.
So barring unforeseen complications in Strasbourg tomorrow, the European Union will push the count up to 57 percent of emissions and spur entry into force next month—that is, unless Canada or Japan rushes to ratify early this week, as well, in which case the tally will be higher.
Europe’s zeal to defend its global image as a climate leader comes against the backdrop of a bloc still reeling from the United Kingdom’s decision to withdraw from the union earlier this year. Leaders were wary of trampling national authorities at a time when skepticism about the European Union is gaining ground. So even as they warned that E.U. credibility was “on the line,” as Cañete put it, if ratification wasn’t forthcoming, they also promised that national governments would play an appropriate role.
Poland and Italy tried to use the urgency other members felt to gain leverage over legislation that will determine which countries must deliver what share of the European Union’s promised emissions reductions. The bloc pledged to cut its carbon output by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels by 2030. Those cuts are to be delivered via a reformed emissions trading scheme and through an “effort-sharing” plan that would require Italy to cut its emissions by a third by 2030 and Poland to slash its emissions by 7 percent.
The two countries have complained about the effect they say the cuts would have on their economies, and proposed that in exchange for their support for a faster track to ratification, the union agree that the effort-sharing legislation be adopted only with the unanimous consent of all countries rather than a weighted majority. This would have allowed countries to veto legislation that assigned them emissions cuts they weren’t prepared to make. But the bid failed after other E.U. countries expressed a willingness to wait to ratify Paris until after national parliaments acted rather than compromise the stringency of the European offering to Paris.
While only seven E.U. countries have ratified the deal thus far, more may do so in the coming weeks, and they would be parties to the deal in time for the gathering in Marrakech. Any that do would earn a seat at the table when negotiations begin on a host of rules and decisions governing how Paris will be implemented.
India ‘committed’ but not bowing to pressure
Europe wasn’t the only country to take a last-minute decision to join Paris. India until just a week ago had refused to even discuss whether it would join this year, and declined to appear in a video montage put together by U.N. staff that featured governments—including the European Union—promising to join quickly.
Then, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter would indeed join the deal on Oct. 2, the birthday of Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Those familiar with India’s climate positions say its move wasn’t prompted by a fear of being among the last to join so much as by a determination to move at its own pace. They pointed to Modi’s statement almost a year before Paris that collaboration between the United States and China “does not impose any pressure” on India (ClimateWire, Jan. 26, 2015).
“But there is pressure,” Modi said at the time. “When we think about the future generations and what kind of world we are going to give them, then there is pressure.”
Andrew Light, a former top U.S. climate negotiator now at WRI, said that by tying ratification to the birthday of the hero of Indian independence, Modi sought to elevate the issue and show India’s commitment.
“India’s a strong, independent country,” he said. “They don’t operate by reacting simply to the pressure they get from other countries. But I think Modi’s committed to this issue. And I think he’s going to do things on his calendar, and it’s great that he’s doing it now.”
Jake Schmidt, international climate director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said India would probably prefer to join the deal before it goes live.
“It’s like showing up at 2:30 when the party ends at 2 a.m.,” he said. “No one remembers you were there.”
India is currently throwing its weight around in discussions ahead of a meeting of parties to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer this month in Kigali, Rwanda, which seek to deliver an amendment that would phase down the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons used in air conditioning and cooling (ClimateWire, Sept. 23).
While most other countries appear to be coalescing around an ambitious agreement that would pair an early freeze date with assistance to help poor countries make the transition, India has insisted that poor countries should be allowed to grow their HFCs for another 15 years.
But Durwood Zaelke of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development said Modi would need to communicate his commitment on the HFC issue to his environment team if India were to avoid being viewed as an obstructor in this process. He also noted that financial luminaries including Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates have backed a more stringent amendment in line with proposals advanced by the United States and other countries, which would freeze emissions for poor countries much sooner than India has envisioned.
Gates, hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer and others have offered funding pledges to help poor countries make a swift transition to less climate-forcing coolants.
“If Modi wants to be included among the big guys on climate, he has to step up his game,” Zaelke said.
Canada, Japan poised, too, to jump aboard
Canada is also expected to finish its ratification process this week after the House of Commons votes on Wednesday. If it takes an additional day or two to submit its paperwork, Canada will join the deal after the European Union pushes it over the emissions threshold. It brings an additional 2 percent of the world’s emissions to the deal.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made improving Canada’s climate track record a hallmark of his first year in office, but his government didn’t ratify the deal ahead of Ban’s U.N. summit last month.
Laurence Blandford, director of international policy analysis at the Center for Clean Air Policy, noted that in contrast to the United States—where the administration joined the deal without involving Congress—the Canadian process required an act of Parliament.
“I would see this as pretty speedy ratification for any treaty, from a Canadian perspective,” said Blandford, a former Canadian negotiator himself.
Trudeau’s government surprised many last month when it announced it would not tighten the Paris commitment put forward last year by the previous Conservative government. That calls for Canada to slash its carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, a target that some analysts have dismissed as inadequate despite the fact Canada already relies very heavily on renewable power.
“The reductions in Canada are primarily costly ones just because of the fact that the electricity sector is already basically resolved,” said Blandford.
Canada has raised the hackles of environmentalists by advocating for its oil sands industry, including by promoting infrastructure projects like the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But it is on the verge of adopting a federal economywide carbon price floor, which the United States shows no signs of doing anytime soon.
Japan may also ratify as soon as this week. The deal is on the Diet agenda for the session that begins this week, but it’s unclear how quickly the parliamentary body will vote on it.
The list of countries that haven’t ratified is long and varied. Schmidt called Russia a “wild card,” noting that while it hasn’t given any indication that it’s planning to ratify Paris, “they could just do it today and trump everybody.”
Some countries that have yet to ratify are among the deal’s strongest supporters, like climate-vulnerable Costa Rica—home of former U.N. climate chief and Paris architect Christiana Figueres.
“It takes time,” said Monica Araya, a former Costa Rica negotiator and founder of the nonprofit group Nivela. The parliament has already debated the deal and passed it once, but it requires a constitutional review that finished two weeks ago. A second debate is now required for Costa Rica to join.
“So ratification will happen this year,” she said. “It is important to highlight that it was not a matter of opposition or hesitation but the sheer weight of slow institutional processes.”
Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net. Click here for the original story.