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EU: Commissioner Attacks U.S. Decision To Pull Out Of Kyoto Commitments

The European Union is reeling in the wake of yesterday's announcement by the Bush administration that is ending U.S. support for the international Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The EU's environmental commissioner said today the U.S. decision demonstrated a "lack of international responsibility" on the part of the world's biggest source of greenhouse gases, and suggested the move could do additional damage to already strained EU-U.S. relations.

Brussels, 29 March 2001 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union today accused the United States of putting its economic interests ahead of the consequences of global warming.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom described as "irresponsible" President George W. Bush's decision to abandon U.S. commitments to cut greenhouse emissions radically by 2012. The commitments were made under the 1997 international Kyoto Protocol. Wallstrom told reporters in Brussels:

"I think it has now been confirmed through statements by [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator] Christine Todd Whitman that the United States [is] planning to -- as they formulate it -- pull out from the Kyoto commitments. This is of course extremely worrying and we don't like what we hear."

Foremost among these commitments -- assumed by the world's developed nations at the 1997 Kyoto conference on the effects of climate change -- is a promise to reduce industrialized nations' carbon dioxide emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. It is widely believed that so-called "greenhouse gas" emissions, caused by the burning of oil and coal, have led to increased global warming -- which, in turn, many believe can cause radical changes in the world's weather.

According to news reports, President Bush decided to pull out of the Kyoto commitments primarily for economic reasons, believing the costs involved in emissions control constitute a needless commercial disadvantage for U.S. businesses during the country's present economic downturn. Bush was said also to object to the Kyoto Protocol's lack of controls on developing nations such as China and India, whose emissions could soon rival those of the United States.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer explained the U.S. position during a press briefing yesterday (Wednesday):

"The president has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It exempts the developing nations around the world and it is not in the United States' economic best interest."

The EU is also clearly riled by the apparently apathetic attitude adopted by the new U.S. administration toward the environmental concerns of EU leaders.

A week ago, at the EU's Stockholm summit, European Commission President Romano Prodi and Prime Minister Goeran Persson of Sweden -- which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency -- sent a joint letter to President Bush urging a follow-up to last year's failed climate conference at The Hague. So far, they have not received any official response, although various U.S. spokesman have commented on the issue.

Commissioner Wallstrom said today that she had no full official confirmation of President Bush's decision to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol, and added that the United States had held no prior consultations with the EU.

"We have to, first of all, find out what exactly this [U.S. decision to abandon the Kyoto commitments] means. Does it mean they won't come to Bonn [for scheduled high-level international talks on climate change in July]? And exactly what are the problems for the United States?"

Wallstrom said the EU was prepared to talk with the United States to see whether its concerns could be addressed within the already established Kyoto framework. She said a high-level EU delegation would leave for Washington early next week, but admitted it was not clear yet with whom it would meet.

Wallstrom said that the collapse of the Kyoto accord -- which the EU wants to have ratified by the end of next year -- would mean years would be lost in negotiating a new accord. She also said that the world's leading industrialized nations -- the main emitters of greenhouse gases -- would then face an enormous credibility problem in the eyes of the developing world.

Wallstrom denied the EU was considering economic sanctions against the United States, although she said EU businesses would be disadvantaged by the emissions commitments taken by their governments. She did say the EU wanted to take up the issue at the next round of World Trade Organization talks, possibly later this year. The United States is known to want to limit the forthcoming WTO discussion to a specific number of concrete economic issues.

The first EU leader expected to raise the Kyoto issue with the U.S. administration is German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is in the United States today for talks with Bush and other high officials. The meetings were due to touch on the problems of global warming.