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EU: Environment Ministers Agree To Ratify Kyoto Protocol

Brussels, 4 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- European Union environment ministers meeting in Brussels today agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The Kyoto agreement, signed in December 1997, set binding targets for the first time for developed nations to reduce emissions of so-called greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

The treaty commits the EU to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 8 percent of 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012. The main object of the treaty is to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, which is a by-product of burning fossil fuels.

The EU is expected to formally approve the Kyoto treaty at its Barcelona summit in mid-March. Today's decision also commits all 15 EU member states to deposit their individual ratification instruments with the United Nations together with the communal EU decision by 1 June. This would put the EU in a strong position to promote the Kyoto objectives at the forthcoming Johannesburg world summit on sustainable development scheduled for 26 August-4 September.

So far, the Netherlands is the only EU member state to have pushed the Kyoto treaty through its lower house of parliament. The agreement of the upper house is still needed for full ratification.

The only countries to have fully ratified the Kyoto Protocol are Romania and the Czech Republic.

In order to enter into force, Kyoto must be ratified by 55 states accounting for at least 55 percent of the developed world's 1990 carbon dioxide emissions.

The United States, which accounts for 25 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases, pulled out of the treaty in early 2001, saying compliance with Kyoto would damage the competitiveness of its economy. This means nearly all of the rest of the world's industrialized nations will have to ratify the treaty in order for it to enter into force.

Since the U.S. pull-out, the EU has lobbied hard to get other major carbon dioxide emitters -- like Russia, Japan, and Canada -- behind the treaty.

Today, the EU's environment commissioner, Margot Wallstrom, said she welcomes "indications" by Japan, New Zealand, and Norway that they are preparing for ratification, and repeated a "strong call" on others, notably Russia, to do the same.

Wallstrom said in a statement, "The fact that at least 25 to 30 industrialized countries are likely to ratify the protocol within this year is a clear signal that the Kyoto Protocol, with its legally binding targets and timetables, is the only effective international framework for combating global warming."

Wallstrom also sharply criticized President George W. Bush's unilateral climate change plan for the United States, announced on 14 February.

The EU environment commissioner said Bush's proposals would allow a significant increase in U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions instead of leading to a reduction.

She said the EU will "continue to urge the United States to return to the Kyoto process."