BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union states agreed on Friday on a fast-track, joint ratification of the Paris accord to combat climate change, pushing the landmark global pact to the brink of entering into force.
The 2015 Paris deal will guide a radical shift of the world economy away from fossil fuels. Friday's agreement by environment ministers from all EU 28 member states marks a rare political breakthrough for the bloc at a time of uncertainty over Britain's departure and discord over the migration crisis.
"What some believed impossible is now real," tweeted European Council President Donald Tusk, whose home country Poland had been the main state resisting such a swift accord.
European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete hailed a "historic" decision and said the deal answered criticisms that the EU had lost leadership on climate change. "In difficult times, we get our act together," he said.
December's Paris accord, by almost 200 nations, aims to slash 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.
EU approval is a milestone because it would push the deal over the threshold required for ratification, of nations representing at least 55 percent of global emissions. China and the United States, the top emitters, ratified the pact this month.
"The Paris Agreement sends an unequivocal market signal," said Stephanie Pfeifer, CEO of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, which includes investors managing over 13 trillion euros ($14.6 trillion) in assets.
The decision by the EU, which accounts for about 12 percent of global emissions, needs approval by the European Parliament in a vote on Oct. 4. That in turn has to be endorsed by ministers, a process that could be done in a day.
If the Paris accord threshold is reached next week, it will formally enter into force after 30 days - ahead of the next round of climate talks in November in Marrakech, Morocco.
Cementing the accord before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 8 would make it harder to challenge if Republican Donald Trump, who has opposed it, beats Democrat Hillary Clinton, a strong supporter.
So far, 61 nations representing 47.8 percent of emissions have ratified. India, with 4 percent, is set to ratify on Sunday.
Poland sought concessions for its coal-fired economy ahead of Friday's special gathering, so EU environment ministers found a way to break with normal procedure and lock collectively into the global pact.
"This is a success. Polish interests will be secured," Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko said.
Asked what reassurances Warsaw had been given, he said: "Even if I got them ... then this would just be a gentleman's agreement ... undoubtedly there is still a lot of work ahead."
The EU shortcut, dubbed "institutional creativity" by France's minister, ultimately hangs on trust that each of the 28 will follow through with their own ratifications. If they do not, those who have gone ahead could be stuck with fulfilling the promised emissions cuts of the bloc as a whole.
Canete said the notion that some parliaments might not ratify the accord is "a scenario I do not think is possible".
Still, when EU regulators unveiled plans in July for spreading the burden of the bloc's climate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 40 percent below 1990 levels, Poland objected to its target.
Paris sets out a goal of phasing out greenhouse gas emissions sometime between 2050 and 2100 as part of efforts to limit heatwaves, floods, droughts and rising sea levels.
Germany, Hungary, France, Austria, Slovakia and Malta - collectively representing 4.39 percent of global emissions - have individually ratified the Paris pact within the EU.
Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko and Marcin Goettig in Warsaw, Alister Doyle in Oslo and Alastair MacDonald in Brussels; Editing by Mark Trevelyan