Pressure mounts on Bush as EU agrees to Kyoto cuts

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The Independent Online

The European Union agreed yesterday to be bound by ambitious targets for the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions when all 15 member states promised to ratify the Kyoto Protocol – the agreement rejected by America.

EU environment ministers agreed on the move at a meeting in Brussels but postponed setting precise reduction targets for each country because of technical objections, particularly from Denmark.

With America resolutely opposed to the Kyoto Protocol, the EU move was vital for the future of the pact and puts pressure on Japan and Russia to follow suit. The 1997 United Nations treaty commits the EU to reduce emissions of "greenhouse gases" by 8 per cent of 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012.

But Kyoto will only become legally binding when it has been ratified by 55 per cent of the signatories, representing 55 per cent of developed countries' 1990 carbon dioxide emissions. Because America produces one-third of all emissions, almost all other developed countries must ratify Kyoto if it is to come into legal force. Pledges from most of those nations to do so have yet to be put into effect.

The EU sought to set an example by saying that all 15 of its member states would achieve parliamentary ratification before the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg on 26 August.

Romano Prodi, the European Commission president, said yesterday's deal "marks an historic moment for Europe's efforts to combat climate change".

The EU decision was also welcomed by environmental groups, who hope that moral pressure will force America to reverse its policy. Michel Raquet of Greenpeace said: "After President Bush slammed the door on the Kyoto Protocol in March 2001, and the very bad joke of the Bush-Exxon climate plan last month, it is now time for the USA to come back to the Kyoto Protocol."

Environment ministers deferred a decision on the precise tonnage of reduction targets, which will have to be resolved no later than 2006.

Denmark, which faces cutting 21 per cent from its 1990 emissions, argues that it has an unrealistically hard task because 1990 was a year in which its carbon dioxide output was historically low. Danes say their figures were lower than normal because there was heavy rainfall in Sweden and Norway in 1990, allowing the Danes to import unusually large quantities of hydroelectric power.

The ministers accepted that there is a "Danish problem", giving Copenhagen the hope of some future concessions.