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The European Union (EU) will formally ratify the Kyoto Protocol today (31 May) at a ceremony at the United Nations in New York. But the international agreement still requires more countries to do the same before it can enter into force.

Each of the 15 individual EU member states, along with the European Commission, has backed the protocol, which aims to tackle climate change by securing a commitment from industrialised countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general told the European ministers, "the unanimous ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by the European Union is good news for the entire world".

Together the EU member states will need to reduce their emissions by 8 per cent from 1990 levels within the next decade, and already plan to cut up to 180 million tonnes of carbon dioxide (35 per cent of this target) over the next 36 months.

The announcement of the EU’s ratification was welcomed by environmental groups, who hope that other nations will follow its lead. “By jointly ratifying the Protocol, the EU is underlining its leadership role in international climate policy,” says Matthias Duwe of the Climate Action Network Europe.

The Kyoto Protocol has now overcome a significant hurdle by obtaining ratification from 55 countries, one of the thresholds for implementation. Although Japan is also due to ratify next week, however, the protocol still falls far short of its second criterion, namely ratification by industrialised countries accounting for 55 per cent of 1990 emissions.

Russia, which represents over 17 per cent of 1990 emissions, is expected to confirm its support later this year. But the paperwork is unlikely to be completed in time for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in August, when supporters had hoped the protocol would finally come into force.

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