After months of delays, the Czech Republic’s lower house of parliament took a first step towards approving the Paris climate change agreement. The Chamber of Deputies voted in favour of the deal in its first reading on Tuesday, sending it for further assessment to lower house committees. The Czech Republic is the last remaining EU member state not to have ratified the landmark agreement.
While the Czech Senate approved the Paris Climate agreement in April this year, the Chamber of Deputies has supported the deal only at its fifth attempt. The approval faced resistance in particular from the opposition Civic Democrats and communists, who argued that it might hurt the country’s economic growth.
After the vote on Tuesday, Environment Minister Richard Brabec said such resistance was unnecessary and could only hurt the country’s image abroad:
“I think it was an unnecessary gesture and we didn’t have to send such a message. I believe it is not going to affect the competitiveness of our economy in any way. The signal we were sending was that we were quite selfish in not joining the global struggle.”
The Paris Agreement was signed by 195 countries in December 2015. It binds the signatories to act to prevent a global temperature rise of more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by reducing greenhouse emissions and pushes for the development of new green technologies.
The Czech Republic signed the Agreement at the United Nations headquarters in April 2016. Regardless of the Czech Republic’s stance, the agreement took effect in November last year. According to Pavel Zámyslický, head of the Climate Change Department at the Czech Environment Ministry, the Paris Agreement doesn’t widen existing Czech commitments undertaken as part of the EU:
“Under the Paris agreement, the Czech Republic has pledged to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by the year 2030. But the Czech Republic and the EU have already pledged to do so within the EU legislation. So it is nothing revolutionary.”
Environmentalist Vojtěch Kotecký from the think tank Glopolis says ratification of the Paris Agreement has saved the country from what he called a major embarrassment. Although the ratification doesn’t technically bring any major changes, he says it is still a very important step to take:
“The Czech Republic’s commitments under the Paris Agreement are essentially equal to the EU legislation that has already been approved several years ago. So we are bound by this legislation anyway.
“Nevertheless, the Czech ratification will make sure that the country joins the rest of the international community in a long-term vision of the elimination of fossil fuels in energy production and our economy and that’s important. It shows that we are one of those countries that want to get rid of coal power, oil, and natural gas in the forthcoming decades.”