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Sept. 20 — Environment ministers from the European Union's 28 countries will meet in Brussels Sept. 30 in an effort to find a way to enable the bloc to rapidly ratify the Paris climate change pact.
Ratification of the Paris Agreement, which was put in place at the end of 2015, is proceeding more rapidly than expected. The agreement will take effect when at least 55 countries representing a minimum of 55 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions formally sign up.
As of Sept. 20, 29 countries representing 40.12 percent of global emissions have ratified or otherwise formally joined, according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The number will increase Sept. 21 at a UN session on Paris Agreement ratification in New York, where at least Argentina and Brazil have said they will officially join the pact. Both countries ratified the agreement this month, but they are counted by the UN only once official documents have been deposited with the world body.
For the European Union to ratify, however, every member country must complete its national ratification procedures and then the bloc as a whole would be able to deposit its instrument of ratification with the UN.
EU internal agreement on ratification is being held up in particular by Poland, which has argued that the EU should agree on its internal sharing of emissions cuts before EU countries can complete their national ratification steps.
EU states Austria, Hungary and France have completed their national ratification procedures.
But there remain “political sensitivities” around the EU's ratification of the Paris Agreement, Artur Runge-Metzger, director of climate strategy in the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, said Sept. 20, responding to questions from Bloomberg BNA at a seminar in Brussels.
“An increasing number of member states would like to see an early ratification” to take the Paris Agreement beyond the 55 percent threshold, and “one will not exclude that individual member states will ratify in the coming weeks” outside the EU framework, Runge-Metzger said.
When they meet Sept. 30, environment ministers will discuss if the EU can deposit an instrument of ratification at the UN before all member countries have completed national ratification.
This could involve a confirmation to the UN of the overall EU emissions reduction target of 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, with precise details of the split by member country to follow later, according to Runge-Metzger.
“Our lawyers are saying that this kind of two-step process would be possible,” he said.
Environment ministers could decide in a qualified majority vote to back an initial EU-level approval of the Paris Agreement, which would have the effect of sidelining Poland, an EU official who asked not to be named told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 20.
But “the aim is to have everyone on board,” the official said.
If environment ministers agree, then the climate pact could be sent to the European Parliament for approval in the first week of October.
Adam Janczak, a deputy director in the Polish Foreign Affairs Ministry, speaking at the same seminar as Runge-Metzger, said EU countries “are not allowed in principle to deposit ratification instruments to the UN,” and ratification should be formalized by the EU as a bloc.
EU countries would have to answer the question, “if I ratify something to what measurable reductions do I commit?” before ratification, Janczak said.
“We need to be 100 percent sure what we are buying,” he said.
He added that it should be made clear that any separation of EU country national ratifications from the EU-level ratification was “not a precedent for the future,” and “might have very serious legal implications” by committing countries to measures they had not fully endorsed.
Poland is reliant on coal for electricity and has urged caution over a number of proposed EU climate mitigation measures, to avoid damaging its economic growth prospects
EU ratification of the Paris Agreement is tied to the bloc's internal discussions on the so-called effort-sharing regulation, a law the European Commission proposed in July that sets 2030 emissions reduction targets for EU countries for the parts of their economies that are not covered by the EU emissions trading system (ETS).
The targets proposed in the draft effort-sharing regulation must be met relative to 2005 and range from 0 percent for Bulgaria, the EU's poorest member, to minus-40 percent for wealthy Luxembourg and Sweden. The effort-sharing regulation would mainly effect agriculture, construction, transportation and waste management.
Janczak said the emission cuts proposed in the draft effort-sharing regulation implied a “massive reduction effort” for countries such as Poland and “more flexibility” should be introduced to enable them to meet targets.
Flexibility could include the right to offset industrial emissions using credits earned from planting forests, greater freedom to transfer carbon permits between industrial sectors covered by the ETS and non-ETS sectors, and carrying forward current carbon permit surpluses, Janczak said.
Runge-Metzger said the draft effort-sharing regulation allowed EU countries some scope to “do business with each other” by transferring emission allowances to help with compliance.
To become final, the effort-sharing regulation must be agreed to by the Council of the European Union, which represents the governments of EU countries, and the European Parliament. Dutch liberal lawmaker Gerben Jan-Gerbrandy was chosen Sept. 19 to oversee the preparation of the European Parliament's position on the proposal.
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