Brussels (AFP) - EU environment ministers agreed Friday to fast-track the ratification of the landmark Paris agreement on climate change, despite the fact that some national parliaments have yet to approve the deal.
"All member states greenlight early EU ratification of Paris agreement. What some believed impossible is now real," European Union President Donald Tusk said on Twitter.
"Victory!" tweeted French Environment Minister Segolene Royal.
Fears that the United States and China, the world's two biggest polluters, were leaving the EU behind on ratifying last year's historic deal pushed the bloc's 28 ministers to rush through the collective measure.
Around 60 countries have now committed to the landmark agreement designed to stem the planet's rising temperatures, which was sealed in December 2015 in the French capital.
"This is a historic day," EU Environment Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete told a news conference, "a day when we put behind us any doubts that the EU is ready to join the Paris climate agreement."
Seven EU countries including Germany and France have ratified the deal so far.
The Paris accord requires all countries to devise plans to achieve the goal of keeping the rise in temperatures within two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels and strive for 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible.
Leaders of EU countries had agreed at a summit in the Slovakian capital Bratislava on September 16 that the bloc should push through ratification at a collective level as soon as possible.
- 'Speed up the process' -
Questions about how emissions cuts will be divided among EU countries have held up the deal in a number of nations, not least over the issue of how Britain's vote to leave the union will affect quotas.
The European Parliament must now give its approval before the EU actually ratifies the agreement, an EU statement said.
The ministers "agreed to speed up the process of ratification of the Paris Agreement" and "decided to go ahead with ratification at EU level", said the statement.
"Member states will ratify either together with the EU if they have completed their national procedures, or as soon as possible thereafter," it added.
Europe has prided itself on taking a global lead on climate change issues but has watched with alarm as the rest of the world has left it behind.
The Paris agreement received a major boost earlier this month when China and the United States, the two largest emitters, jointly acceded to the deal during a summit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi Jinping.
At least 30 countries jointly ratified the Paris deal at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 21.
France's Royal told AFP earlier this month that she was upbeat the accord would take effect before the next UN-led climate conference on November 7 in Marrakesh, Morocco.