EU vote on Paris Agreement seals the deal on climate change

Written by | Technology and Science

 ESB Professional / Shutterstock

ESB Professional / Shutterstock

In October, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to ratify the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. It’s a significant milestone, and a major step forward in the fight against global warming. The agreement is the first of its kind; a universal, legally binding global deal for getting our carbon emissions under control and preventing the Earth’s atmospheric temperatures reaching potentially dangerous levels.

While the deal was successfully agreed at the negotiation stages and welcomed by climate change activists, MEPs were still required to give consent for the agreement to go forward. They did so with an overwhelming majority of 610 votes to 38, with 31 abstentions. Now that the EU Parliament has approved the deal, it just needs to be ratified at a domestic level. Several member states have already done this, including Germany, France, Austria and Portugal.

For the Paris Agreement to enter into force, it needs to be joined by at least 55 countries — a milestone that’s already been passed. But subscribed parties also need to represent at least 55 percent of global emissions. Before the EU vote, that number was just short of 52 percent. It’s now virtually guaranteed to be exceeded, as EU member states are collectively responsible for just over 12 percent of emissions.

The EU’s emphatic vote means the Paris Agreement will become a legal reality long before anyone — even its negotiators — expected. Ever since the deal was brokered last December, major global players like the US, China and the UN have been pushing to bring it into force as quickly as possible. It has passed several significant milestones in a short space of time as a result.

“Our vote paves the way to ensure that the agreement meets the necessary threshold,” said European Parliament President Martin Schulz. “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 protocol. Today’s vote also means that the EU remains a climate leader.”

As several MEPs noted while speaking on the day of the vote, it showed that cooperation and collaboration are key to tackling global problems. They also stressed the need to press forward with implementing the agreement, due to the increasingly-evident urgency of the climate change issue.

The deal will now come into force in November, when the EU joins the US, China, India, and other global players and major greenhouse gas emitters at a meeting of Parties to the Paris Agreement (CMA) in Marrakesh. The conversation will then move towards strategy as the parties discuss how they intend to meet the targets set out in the agreement.

That will be easier said than done. Many believe that we have already passed a “point of no return” where simply curbing emissions is not enough. We may need to develop expensive new technologies to actively remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to prevent temperatures spiralling out of control. The Paris Agreement has been an important first step, but we still have all our work ahead of us.

Q: Will the agreement change anything, or is it a case of “too little, too late”? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Last modified: October 18, 2016