EU environment ministers agreed Friday to the bloc's ratification of the Paris agreement on climate change, in a move that could see conditions met for its entry into force next week.
The deal, agreed in the French capital last December, is the first universal action plan aimed at keeping global temperature increases within two degrees of pre-industrial levels.
Although the European Union prides itself on being a global leader on climate change action, the bloc had lagged in its ratification of the agreement - a step that China and the United States completed earlier this month.
The Paris deal formally takes effect 30 days after two conditions have been met: firstly, that it has been ratified by at least 55 countries; and secondly, that those countries account for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Sixty-one states, accounting for 47.79 per cent of emissions, have so far ratified the deal. If countries such as India come on board in the coming days, as expected, the EU's imminent ratification could see the second condition fulfilled.
"Today the member states decided to make history together and bring closer the entry into force of the first-ever universally binding climate change agreement," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said.
"Victory!" tweeted French Environment Minister Segolene Royal, whose country played a key role in brokering the Paris deal. Her Austrian counterpart Andrae Rupprechter wrote: "Yes! United we are strong."
"We fought so long for this deal, so it is only appropriate that we are now also a founding member," said German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, who did not attend the specially convened talks in Brussels.
But environmental groups were more cautious in their welcome.
The decision is "a reason for happiness, but not jubilation," said Ann-Kathrin Schneider of Friends of the Earth Germany, noting that the world faces "huge challenges" to meet the ambitions of the Paris deal.
"Ratification is not the end goal. It's only the first step," EU Climate Action Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete noted.
The ministers agreed to an accelerated procedure, allowing the EU to ratify the deal before all 28 member states have given their individual blessing.
The decision must now be approved by the European Parliament - a move expected Tuesday, allowing the ratification to be concluded in the following days.
So far, seven EU member states have individually ratified the deal: Germany, France, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Malta and Portugal.
But some states - such as Poland, whose industry is heavily reliant on fossil fuels - insisted on guarantees to protect domestic energy sources before agreeing to the EU's planned approach. Others worried that the fast-track ratification procedure could set a precedent, diplomats said.
"Coal must remain the guarantor of Polish energy security for several more decades," said Polish Environment Minister Jan Szyszko, adding that he had been granted the necessary assurances.
Canete insisted, meanwhile, that the compromise reached Friday did not change the EU's level of ambition.
By 2030, the EU has promised to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions to 40 per cent below 1990 levels. It is not yet clear, however, exactly how this will be achieved.
The pledges agreed to in the Paris deal have to be met by 2020.