EU Approves Paris Climate Agreement, Triggering Accord to Take Effect

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz celebrate the E.U.'s ratification of the UN climate agreement Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2016.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy Segolene Royal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz celebrate the E.U.’s ratification of the UN climate agreement Tuesday. Frederick Florin/AFP/Getty Images

The European Union adopted the U.N.’s landmark climate accord Tuesday, pushing it over the threshold needed to take effect.

At least 55 of the 191 nations that adopted the agreement in Paris in December needed to sign the accord for it to “enter into force.” Those countries also had to account for at least 55 percent of the world’s heat-trapping carbon emissions.

The 28-nation European Union, which produces 12 percent of global emissions, brought the agreement’s emissions tally to 64 percent.

“Today the European Union turned climate ambition into climate action,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement. “The Paris Agreement is the first of its kind and it would not have been possible were it not for the European Union. Today we continued to show leadership and prove that, together, the European Union can deliver.”

The U.S. and China, the world’s two largest carbon emitters, and historically resistant to international accords aimed at climate change, formally committed to the agreement last month. India, another heavy polluter that has traditionally refrained from joining international environmental agreements, signed the agreement Sunday.

It is set to take effect in 30 days, just before the start of the U.N.’s next climate conference in Morocco on Nov. 7.

The accord seeks to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, chiefly by calling on individual nations to make “nationally determined contributions” to reduce their emissions. It does not contain legally binding measures to enforce those commitments, but by formalizing the shared ambition of nearly 200 nations to address climate change – especially those that have normally abstained from global climate action – it sets the stage for more expansive agreements in the years to come.

“If you add it up, all the commitments that were made by all 200 nations, it would still not be sufficient to deal with the pace of warming that we’re seeing in the atmosphere,” President Barack Obama said at an event at the White House on Monday. “What it does do is set up for the first time the architecture, the mechanism whereby we can consistently start turning up the dials and reducing the amount of carbon pollution that we’re putting into the atmosphere.”

However, conservative lawmakers in the U.S., as well as fossil fuel groups, manufacturers, and other industries, have been overwhelmingly critical of the agreement, which they allege will hamper the country’s economic growth. The centerpiece of the U.S. commitment to the agreement, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, the first federal rule to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants, is facing a broad legal challenge from 28 states and more than 100 companies, trade associations and industry groups.

This year is on track to be the hottest on record, breaking previous benchmarks set in 2014 and 2015. The pace of warming is “unprecedented in the last 1,000 years,” Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told reporters in a call last month. “In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory.”

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