The U.N.-sponsored climate pact to limit greenhouse gases crossed a critical threshold far ahead of schedule Tuesday with the approval of the European Union, as world leaders raced to cement the deal amid fears that Donald Trump would make good on his vow to end U.S. participation if elected president.
With the addition of the 28 European Union nations, the agreement cleared the hurdle of 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions required for the accord to enter into effect — less than a year after being negotiated by the Obama administration and more than 190 countries in December.
With the approval by the EU parliament needing a month to officially take effect, the accord could start to come into force on Nov. 7 — one day before
the presidential election in the U.S.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest praised the speed at which the deal was ratified even as critics attributed the flurry of approvals to the possibility of a November victory by Mr. Trump, who vowed in May to “cancel” the accord.
Mr. Earnest said that multilateral, U.N.-backed agreements “typically take multiple years, if not decades, to enter into force.”
“And the fact that this agreement will take effect in less than a year is not just a historic accomplishment, it’s a historic commitment to fulfilling the terms of the deal in a way that will have enormous positive benefits for the planet,” he said.
“The entry into force of the Paris agreement less than one year after its signature is a massive achievement, given that it took eight years for the [Kyoto climate agreement],” European Parliament President Martin Schulz noted in a statement.
Given that Mr. Obama entered into the agreement by executive action, critics have argued a future president could take the U.S. out of the agreement with the stroke of a pen. Even so, supporters have pushed for quick approval on the theory that withdrawing from the pact would become trickier once ratification is in place.
Negotiated at the 21st Conference of the Parties in Paris, the nonbinding accord appeared to stall until U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged countries in July to accelerate their ratification process.
President Obama heeded the call by entering into the accord a month ago at a joint ceremony with Chinese President Xi Jinping, despite objections from congressional Republicans, who have insisted that the agreement is a treaty and therefore must be ratified by the Senate. China and the U.S. are the world’s two biggest producers of greenhouse gases.
Climate Depot’s Marc Morano compared the push to the sudden release of U.S. hostages by Iran in 1981 shortly after Republican Ronald Reagan was elected president.
“The international climate community is terrified of the prospect of a Trump presidency, and with good reason,” said Mr. Morano. “Trump has pledged to do a full ‘Clexit’ and pull out of the U.N. Paris Agreement, overturn the EPA executive orders on climate and defund” the U.N. expert panel that has strongly pressed the case for man-made global warming.
The European Parliament vote on ratification, which passed overwhelmingly with 610 in favor, 38 against and 31 abstaining, came two days after India, one of the world’s leading carbon emitters, submitted its ratification document to the U.N.
That still left the accord about 3 percentage points shy of the 55 percent emissions goal until the EU weighed in with its Tuesday vote. The Canadian House of Commons is expected to ratify the agreement Wednesday, adding another 2 percent to the emissions percentage.
The accord is scheduled to enter into force 30 days after the EU ratification is delivered Friday to the U.N., coinciding with the next major international climate change meeting in Marrakech, Morocco.
The debate goes on
But the rush of national endorsements is hardly expected to end the debate over the accord, which calls for a cooperative global effort to hold global temperature increases to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
Congressional Republicans have challenged President Obama’s decision to enter into the agreement without Senate ratification, while the White House has said that the nonbinding pact is not a treaty and may be ratified by executive action.
“The Paris climate deal is a legally non-binding deal that the president forced on taxpayers,” said the GOP majority of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology in a Monday post on Twitter. “It is all pain & no gain.”
Critics have also blasted the agreement as political theater that will place Western nations at a competitive disadvantage with countries such as China and India, both of which are expected to increase their carbon dioxide emissions in the short term.
“The Paris agreement is a grand theater designed to convince Western taxpayers to cough up more money,” said Australian climate skeptic Joanne Nova. “China and India are part of the show, putting on their best environmental faces while they do nothing green — or even less.”
Meanwhile, climate change activists wasted no time cheering the EU’s milestone vote.
“Today is a historic day, and we applaud the international community for setting the foundation for global action to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,” said BlueGreen Alliance executive director Kim Glas.
Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that although the vote is “certainly a cause for celebration — perhaps with a glass or two of French wine — much hard work lies ahead.”
“Countries must now move aggressively to implement and strengthen their emissions reduction commitments under the agreement if we are to have any chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change,” Mr. Meyer said.
Even within the climate change movement, however, opinions on the Paris accord are mixed. Climatologist James Hansen, a former NASA director and a leading critic of global warming, described the agreement as too little too late.
“There’s a misconception that we’ve begun to address the climate problem,” Mr. Hansen told reporters Monday. “The misapprehension is based on the Paris climate summit, where all the government leaders clapped each other on the back as if some great progress has been made, but you look at the science and it doesn’t compute. We are not doing what is needed.”
After the vote, the European Commission announced that it had already brought forward legislative proposals “to deliver on the EU’s commitment to reduce emissions in the European Union by at least 40 percent by 2030.”
“Today the European Union turned climate ambition into climate action,” European Parliament President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters in Brussels. “The Paris Agreement is the first of its kind, and it would not have been possible were it not for the European Union.”
Mr. Morano described the EU’s action as lip service, saying that “the climate campaigners can now declare victory and herald this climatically meaningless U.N. agreement as some kind of milestone.”
“But the reality is, this treaty is about forcing the U.S. and Europe to redistribute wealth, and it’s about enriching the U.N.,” he said. “You may as well believe in witchcraft if you actually believe that the U.N. can control the Earth’s temperature and manage storminess.”