Europe must share blame for Kyoto busted flush

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Series Details Vol 7, No.14, 5.4.01, p13
Publication Date 05/04/2001
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Date: 05/04/01

By Simon Coss

AMID the controversy surrounding George W. Bush's decision to dump the Kyoto climate-change deal, one small fact seems to have been forgotten: the European Commission considered Kyoto a busted flush over a year ago.

Environment chief Margot Wallström, who failed this week to convince the President into a U-turn during her flying visit to Washington, admitted as much in early 2000.

She said the EU could not honour the pledges at the 1997 conference because member states had not put the necessary measures in place.

She said governments needed to have implemented tough emissions reduction schemes by the end of 1999 if the Union was to have any chance of meeting its target of cutting greenhouse gas production to 8% of 1990 levels by 2012. But by the start of last year member states had "yet to produce convincing plans" to do so.

Since then little has changed. As of the middle of last month not a single EU member state had ratified the Kyoto protocol.

Governments have defended their lack of progress by saying they wanted to have a clearer idea of how the deal's targets should be achieved. The absence of such guidance resulted in last year's failed climate change talks in The Hague.

Officials in many capitals were also saying there was little point in the European Parliament approving the deal until the US clarified its position on Kyoto.

But since Bush dropped his environment bombshell last week, EU leaders have been falling over themselves to stress their commitment to cutting greenhouse gases. French President Jacques Chirac called Bush's announcement "unacceptable" and insisted that the climate change treaty should be ratified as soon as possible.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder struck a similarly belligerent tone. In an article published in the Los Angeles Times, he told the American administration: "Dear friends you are wrong to reject Kyoto!"

The normally mild-mannered Commission President Romano Prodi slammed the US for abandoning efforts to tackle "one of the biggest challenges to global sustainability".

While few observers outside the US would try to justify Bush's decision to torpedo almost 10 years of tortuous United Nations negotiations, some observers argue that member states' transformation into a posse of green crusaders is a tad hard to swallow.

Experts point out, for example, that the Kyoto accord can enter into force once it has been ratified by 55% of the countries who signed up to the deal - providing they account for 55% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Even without Washington, Kyoto could have been up and running by now if other countries - and notably the EU's member states - had shown a bit more enthusiasm for the deal.

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