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Vatican commits to Paris Agreement

  • 14 July 2022
  The news that the Holy See will be joining the Paris Agreement indicates that the Vatican will be stepping up its climate diplomacy. The Holy See has announced that, on 6 July, its Permanent Observer at the United Nations ‘deposited before the Secretary-General of the United Nations the Instrument with which the Holy See, in the name and on behalf of Vatican City State, accesses to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’. The announcement continued that the Holy See would be acceding to the Paris Agreement as soon as that treaty’s ‘legal requirements’ allow.

The Convention was adopted at the 1992 Rio de Janeiro conference on the environment and entered into force in 1994. As its name indicates, it provides a framework for states to cooperate on climate change, setting out principles, reporting requirements and an institutional architecture.

The Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention adopted the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, setting individual greenhouse gas emissions targets for developed countries. However, the United States never ratified it, other major developed States refused to accept 2020 targets and the protocol never addressed the massive growth in emissions from developing countries. In 2015, the COP charted a new course by adopting the Paris Agreement, which requires all countries to nominate progressively stronger Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The Agreement entered into force in 2016.

Membership of the climate treaties is open only to sovereign States and ‘regional economic integration organizations’ (currently, the European Union). The Holy See is eligible by virtue of the complex but largely uncontested status it has enjoyed in international law since its agreement of the 1929 Lateran Treaty with Italy. The late International Court of Justice judge James Crawford concluded that ‘it is clear that the Vatican City is a State in international law, despite its size and special circumstances’, while the Holy See is ‘both an international legal person in its own right and the government of a State’ (i.e. Vatican City). Holy See membership of the climate treaties ‘on behalf of’ the territorial unit of Vatican City is consistent with this interpretation.

Article 22 of the Convention provides that it is open for ‘ratification, acceptance, approval or accession by States and by regional economic integration organizations’. The Convention enters force in respect of an acceding State ninety days after the deposit of its instrument of accession (Article 23). This would make the Holy See subject to the