Early EU Action Pushes Paris Pact Over Finish Line

Energy and Climate Report provides current, thorough coverage of clean energy, efficiency, and climate change legislation, regulation, policy, legal developments, and trends in the U.S. and...

By Dean Scott

Oct. 5 — The Paris climate agreement formally crossed the finish line Oct. 5 when the European Union fast-tracked ratification documents to the United Nations days earlier than expected, clearing the path for countries to begin writing rules to implement the deal when the next UN climate summit opens Nov. 7 in Morocco.

UN officials “expect the [Paris] Agreement to enter into force on 5 November,” UN spokesman Dan Shepard told Bloomberg BNA, less than 10 months after the deal was negotiated by nearly 200 nations in Paris.

President Barack Obama, who pushed for quick global acceptance of the agreement, said its formal adoption “gives us the best possible shot to save the one planet we’ve got,” in remarks from the White House Rose Garden.

“Today, the world has officially crossed the threshold for the Paris Agreement to take effect,” Obama said, adding that he hopes it will be seen as the turning point for global progress on climate change. He also urged nations that have yet to ratify the pact—still well over half of the nearly 200 nations that signed on to deal in December—to do so, and as quickly as possible.

Crossing Both Key Thresholds

The EU action will ensure that European countries—which have often led in the global push for climate action, but in this case essentially are last in a line of countries that included the U.S., China, India, Brazil and even many small island nations—will be remembered as the linchpin in making the deal operational.

The EU’s fast-track move means a total of 72 countries representing 56.75 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have now deposited instruments of ratification or acceptance for the Paris document with the UN.

To go into effect, the pact needed ratification by at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of the world’s emissions. The EU’s move Oct. 5 effectively allowed the deal to go forward even though only seven of its 28 member nations—Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Portugal and Slovakia—ratified the Paris deal.

The Paris pact is meant to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) later this century compared to the pre-industrial era. Developed and developing nations in the run-up to the 2015 Paris talks put pledges on the table to address their greenhouse gas emissions, actions that are to be updated and strengthened over time.

Obama in his remarks also pushed for progress from separate international negotiations that are weighing whether to curb aviation-sector carbon dioxide emissions, as well as hydrofluorocarbons—extremely potent greenhouse gases commonly used in refrigeration. The talks toward capping aviation emissions began last week in Montreal under the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization; negotiations toward a global phasedown of HFCs are to be held Oct. 8–14 in Kigali, Rwanda, under the auspices of the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer.

Bragging Rights for Morocco?

Getting the deal officially in place so far in advance of the Nov. 7–18 UN summit in Marrakech could give Morocco bragging rights in hosting the first meeting of the Conference of the Parties to begin implementing the Paris Agreement, or CMA. Still unclear is how much progress can be made on greenhouse gas reporting, verification and other procedural rules, given that less than half the 200 nations that signed on to the deal have yet to ratify it and thus would not have official standing at the CMA.

Some ministers tried to assure those countries that they would not be on the outside looking in when the CMA talks begin. Earlier this year, Hakima El-Haite, Morocco’s minister of environment, and French climate envoy Laurence Tubiana issued a “reflections note” that said all countries, whether they approved the deal or not, will have an equal voice in Morocco and beyond.

“No party should be disadvantaged or excluded from the collective development of the rulebook for the Paris Agreement simply because it is in the process of joining the agreement,” it read.

The Oct. 5 announcement was not welcomed by all. Congressional Republicans for example remain largely opposed to the U.S. participation in the Paris deal. Obama’s decision to use his executive authority to sign the U.S. on to the deal is still controversial among those Republicans, who argue the deal should have been submitted to the Senate for ratification.

Obama “acted unlawfully by signing an international treaty without Senate ratification, as required by the Constitution,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a prepared statement.

With assistance from Eric J. Lyman in Rome and Stephen Gardner in Brussels

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Greg Henderson at ghenderson@bna.com

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.