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European Union: Ratification of Treaty of Paris on Climate Change

(Oct. 12, 2016) On October 4, 2016, the European Parliament (EP) ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. The majority of the Members of the EP, 610, voted in favor of ratification, with 38 against and 31 abstentions.  (Aline Robert, MEPs Vote to Ratify Paris Agreement, EURACTIV (Oct. 4, 2016); The Paris Agreement, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) website (last visited Oct. 11, 2016).)

The EU’s Role in Forging the Paris Agreement

The European Union, even prior to the signing of the Paris Agreement, played a pivotal role in bringing together developed and developing countries to participate in the Paris conference of December 2015 and to endorse the climate change agreement that resulted from the meeting. (How the EU Helped Build the Ambition Coalition (Jan. 20, 2015), STORIFY.) At the time of the conference, the majority of the participating states had already drawn up a document indicating their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs) to greenhouse gas reduction covering a period of from five to ten years beginning in 2020; these INDCs were presented at the conference.  (Questions and Answers on the Paris Agreement, EUROPA (last visited Oct. 5, 2016).) The EU and its Members States were the first major economies to put forward INDCs reflecting their commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions domestically by at least 40% by 2030.   (European Commission, Proposal for a Council Decision on the Conclusion on Behalf of the European Union of the Paris Agreement Adopted Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, COM(2016) 395 final (June 10, 2016), EUR-LEX.)

Ratification of the Paris Agreement by the EU and Member States

Article 218 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union lays down the procedure for the negotiation and conclusion of agreements between the EU and third countries or international organizations. In particular, the Council of the EU, on a proposal from the European Commission as negotiator, must adopt a decision authorizing the conclusion of an agreement on behalf of the EU.  (Consolidated Version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), art. 218, ¶ 6, 2016 O.J. (C 202) 47.)

On April 22, 2016, the European Commission and the Council of the EU (on behalf of the EU), and all 28 Member States (on their own behalf), signed the Paris Agreement in a ceremony convened in New York by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  (Press Release, European Commission, Paris Agreement Signing Ceremony in New York – The EU Calls for Swift Ratification (Apr. 21, 2016).)

On September 30, 2016, the Ministers of the Environment of the Council of the EU, in an extraordinary meeting held in Brussels, endorsed the agreement.   (Press Release, European Commission, Ministers Approve EU Ratification of Paris Agreement, EUROPA (Sept. 30, 2016).) The Council also had to obtain the consent of the European Parliament, which was granted on October 4. Afterwards, on the same day,  the Council adopted its final decision on the signing of the Agreement, which is the last step in the conclusion of agreements at the EU level.  (art. 218, ¶ 6 (a).)  On October 7, 2016, the decision was deposited with the Secretary-General of the U.N.  The EU ratification comes into effect from the moment of deposit of the decision.  (Press Release, Consilium, Climate Change: Council Adopts Decision for EU ratification of Paris Agreement, EUROPA (Oct. 4, 2016).)

The Paris Agreement is a “mixed” agreement, because its subject matter is the environment, which falls within the competence of the EU and its Member States, and so it needs to be ratified severally as well by the EU Member States in compliance with their individual constitutional requirements. In instances where the EU has exclusive competence, only the EU has the power to negotiate and conclude an agreement.  (TFEU, arts. 3 & 4, on division of competences.)  Thus far, Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Malta, Portugal, and Slovakia have deposited their instruments of ratification.  (Paris Agreement – Status of Ratification, UNFCCC website (last visited Oct. 11, 2016).)

Key Features of the Paris Agreement 

The Paris Agreement builds upon the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which entered into force on March 21, 1994. (First Steps to a Safer Future: Introducing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC website (last visited Oct. 5, 2016).)  The key commitments undertaken by the participating states in the Paris Agreement include:

  • keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the increase even further to 1.5°C;
  • meeting every five years to establish more ambitious targets, if necessary;
  • reporting to each other and following progress on implementation targets;
  • tackling the issue of loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change;
  • acknowledging the need to cooperate and enhance understanding, action, and support in different areas, such as early warning systems, emergency preparedness, and risk insurance;
  • strengthening societies’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change; and
  • providing continuing and enhanced international support to developing countries for adaptation to climate change. (Questions and Answers on the Paris Agreement, supra.)

A novelty of the Paris Agreement is that all the participating states are legally obliged to prepare, communicate, and maintain a nationally determined “mitigation contribution,” in contrast to the UNFCCC and its 1997 Kyoto Protocol, under which only some countries had mitigation commitments. (Id.)

Entry into Force

The EU’s ratification brought the conditions for the entry into force of the Paris Agreement to completion, based on the required ratification by 55 parties accounting for 55% of global emissions. This threshold was set in order to ensure the participation of the largest polluters, especially China, the EU, and the United States.  (Questions and Answers on the Paris Agreement, supra.)  As of October 11, 2016, 76 States Parties to the Agreement have ratified it.  (The Paris Agreement, supra.)

The Paris Agreement will enter into force on November 4, 2016, 30 days after the required minimum number of ratifications was met. (The Paris Agreement, supra; Paris Agreement (Dec. 22, 2015), art. 21, ¶ 1, UNFCCC website.)