The EU Environment Ministers voted on Friday at the extraordinary meeting of the Environment Council a historic decision to ratify the Paris Agreement. The decision proposal was adopted in June by the European Commission, thus starting the ratification process of the Paris Agreement on behalf of the EU, in accordance with the provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, articles 192(1) together with article 218(6). The decision, as adopted on Friday, now awaits action by the European Parliament, which must formally consent to the Council’s decision followed by the formal ratification by the Council, before the EU may submit its instrument of ratification with the UN: “It can be done very quickly, in one day,” Cañete said, pointing to 5th of October as a potential deadline. The EU represents just over 12 per cent of emissions and is considered to be the key to the entry into force of the Paris Agreement before the October 7 deadline, which is the last date when the parties can timely ratify the agreement for entry into force before COP 22.
This vote is a rare and creative political move, as it will allow the EU to ratify the Paris Agreement en bloc before each of the 28 member states ratify it nationally. According to Cañete, this decision will not create a precedent, as it “does not preempt or prejudge the decision by national parliaments.” This is possible because the Paris Agreement creates obligations for the EU and for the individual member states, thus it has to be ratified by both the EU and all 28 member states. So far, only seven EU states have individually ratified the Paris Agreement, namely Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Malta, and Portugal, with the UK promising to ratify by the end of this year. If the rest of the member states do not follow through with the ratification of the Paris Agreement, the states that have ratified it may be stuck with fulfilling the EU’s overall promised emission reduction goal. But Cañete believes that this is “a scenario I do not think is possible”. Still, when the EU presented its plan to cut emissions by 40% below 1990 levels by 2030, Poland objected to it, in an effort to protect its coal industry. Before Friday’s decision, Poland sought to secure its coal-fired economy by demanding an effective veto over future climate decisions. Nevertheless, the EU environment ministers found a way to get Poland on board.
The Council’s decision reflects both pride and climate leadership. The EU is regarded as a leader in developing clean energy technologies, but today countries like China are gaining momentum. The EU has to step up to the plate and be an example of unity, solidarity and global climate leadership for the entire world by demonstrating its commitment to the implementation and enforcement of the Paris Agreement. By ratifying the Paris Agreement, the EU has a place at the table “when the parties will start meeting to design the rules of how the Paris agreement will be implemented” said Jonathan Goventa, London director of E3G, a European climate and energy think tank. According to Cañete:“Today’s agreement shows unity and solidarity as Member States take a European approach, just as we did in Paris. This is what Europe is all about. In difficult times, we get our act together, and we make the difference. (..) Ratification is a crucial step towards implementing the Paris Agreement. But let’s be clear, ratification is not the end goal. It’s only the first step.”