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Europe struggles to contain fury at Bush's betrayal
With little appetite for a trade war, politicians react with statements of outrage and regret
By Stephen Castle in Brussels and Paul Peachey
30 March 2001
The decision by the world's biggest polluter to ditch the Kyoto Treaty was yesterday met with fury across the globe.
Europe's leaders reacted with outrage, but no more than veiled threats, to America's hardline stance on climate change, as policy-makers struggled for a way to pressurise the new US administration to change course.
The EU announced a mission to Washington to clarify the US position and warned of a new transatlantic rift spreading beyond immediate concerns over climate change.
Margot Wallström, the European Commissioner for the Environment, said Washington had to be made aware that "this is not ...some kind of marginal environmental issue that can be ignored or played down; it is to do with international relations, trade and economics."
Ireland's Environment Minister, Noel Dempsey, expressed his "deep regret" and his British counterpart, Michael Meacher, warned that President Bush's decision was "exceptionally serious".
Beneath the rhetoric lies a fear that the Bush decision has huge potential to inflame public opinion in Europe. The German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, whose coalition government includes the Greens, was due to raise the issue of climate change with Mr Bush at a meeting in Washington last night.
The pressure group Friends of the Earth began an immediate "e-mail avalanche" to lobby the White House.
For European politicians, the dangers are clear. Sweden, which holds the EU presidency, has identified the environment as one of the three priorities; now it has the potential embarrassment of having to explain the presence of the polluters' friend, George Bush, at its formal summit in Göteborg in June.
Nevertheless, there is little enthusiasm for threatening economic sanctions( perhaps against American technology designed to combat climate change) which could provoke a wider trade war. Nor is there yet a consensus on what to do if the US boycotts the next climate change talks, scheduled for Bonn in July.
As Ms Wallström said yesterday, the US position goes to the heart of the principle of nations trading freely on a level playing field. The Commissioner argued: "Why should we put European business and European companies under such pressure and let American companies off the hook? Why should they play by other rules than European companies?"
On the other hand, if America does opt out, there will be pressure for Europe to press ahead with as much of a deal as it can. Martin Rocholl, director of Friends of the Earth, Europe, said: "There is a clear demand we would have on the EU to go ahead with CO2 reduction."
In the short term, the EU will increase political pressure on the US's erstwhile allies in the so-called "umbrella group", including Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Canada, a group which is itself split.
Yesterday, Tokyo urged Washington to reconsider and Australia reminded the world's most voracious resources consumer it had a responsibility to cut the globe's emissions of greenhouse gases.
The Green Party denounced the "cavalier and irresponsible" attitude to climate change ... that already threatens the continued existence of some Pacific and Indian Ocean islands.
The Australian Environment Minister, Robert Hill, said Mr Bush had effectively scuppered any chances of a deal on staving off global warming. Mr Hill said the US, responsible for about 30 per cent of global greenhouse gases, had a responsibility not to walk away from the treaty. He said: "If the United States withdrew from it that would be the end of that process. Time is against us; we are already starting to experience the consequences of climate change."
However, Friends of the Earth International said resumed talks in Bonn in July should concentrate on world action with or without the US.
Its spokesman, Charles Secrett, said: "George Bush's decision to rat on the Kyoto Treaty is grim news. Millions of people, in the US as well as in other countries, face the loss of their homes, their jobs and even their lives because of climate change. But this ignorant, short-sighted and selfish politician, long-since firmly jammed into the pockets of the oil lobby, clearly couldn't care less."
-- Swissrose (email@example.com), March 30, 2001