With EU backing, Paris climate deal clears last hurdle to taking effect

By Foo Yun Chee STRASBOURG (Reuters) - The European Parliament approved the Paris accord to fight climate change on Tuesday, tipping it over the threshold needed for the global deal to enter into force, in what U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon hailed as an historic vote. The Paris Agreement reached by nearly 200 nations nearly one year ago will help guide a radical shift of the world economy away from fossil fuels in order to limit heat waves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels. European Union approval, expected to be signed off on by the bloc's 28 nations this week, will lift the deal over the required level of nations representing at least 55 percent of global emissions to enter into force. "With the action taken by the EU parliament, I am confident that we will be able to cross the 55 percent threshold very soon, in just a matter of a few days," Ban said after EU lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to accept the accord. "I am extremely honored to be able to witness this historic moment. We have seen extraordinary action from all corners of the globe to bring this agreement to life this year. "You now have an opportunity to make history by helping lead the world to a better future ... Let us show we are united." European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said the milestone heralded a harder phase of turning promises into cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. "Our collective task is to turn our commitments into action on the ground," he said in a statement. The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) said it was important that the EU continues to advance the climate agenda. "At the international level, the EU must not rest on its laurels," WWF European Policy Office Director Genevieve Pons said. "Instead, it must roll up its sleeves and play a key role in the international climate negotiations taking place in Marrakesh next month. Ensuring that the measures for the ambitious implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement are in place is key." Ratification by the EU, which accounts for about 12 percent of global emissions, is expected to be deposited with the United Nations by Friday. China and the United States, the top emitters, ratified the pact this month. It was a rare show of unity by a bloc divided over Britain's vote to leave the EU, migration and economic policy. EU leaders agreed a legislative shortcut to fast-track approval of the Paris accord to avoid lagging behind other nations in backing the global pact it championed. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: "Today we continued to show leadership and prove that together the European Union can deliver." The accord aims to curb greenhouse gas emissions by shifting away from fossil fuels to limit global warming to "well below" two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) compared to pre-industrial times. Once ratification is deposited with the United Nations, the accord takes effect 30 days later, early enough for it to be locked into place ahead of the next round of climate talks in November in Morocco. Cementing the Paris accord before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 would also make it harder to challenge if Republican Donald Trump, who has opposed it, beats Democrat Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter. So far, 62 nations accounting for almost 52 percent of global emissions have ratified. Within the EU, Germany, Hungary, France, Austria, Slovakia and Malta - collectively representing 4.39 percent of global emissions - have ratified individually. (Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Janet Lawrence/Mark Heinrich)