Bush acts to blunt European attacks on environment

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The Independent US

President Bush sought to allay European fears about his commitment to the environment yesterday, offering US support to a series of studies and joint ventures to help combat global warming. America, he said, "was committed to a leadership role" in the international effort against climate change.

"We recognise our responsibility to reduce our emissions," Mr Bush said. "We also recognise the other part of the story ­ that the rest of the world emits 80 per cent of all greenhouse gases and many of those emissions are from developing countries."

Mr Bush was speaking hours before setting off on his first visit to Europe as President. Europeans have led the condemnation of America's withdrawal from the Kyoto protocol and EU leaders are expected to make strong representations to him in person when they meet at the biannual EU-US summit in Gothenburg later this week.

Demonstrations are also planned by environmental campaigners to protest against US policy. Greenpeace denounced his speech yesterday, warning that he could expect a robust reception in Europe.

While Mr Bush went out of his way in his speech to say that he accepted that global warming was a problem that needed to be tackled, he nevertheless peppered his lengthy statement with references to scholarly uncertainties about climate change, and referred to the 1997 Kyoto protocol repeatedly as a "fatally flawed" agreement that could not be implemented. What the US wanted, Mr Bush insisted, was "an effective and science-based response" to global warming that would balance environmental and economic demands. For the US, he said, Kyoto was "not sound public policy" and would not be endorsed.

As though to compensate for rejecting the mandatory emissions controls, Mr Bush said the US would create a climate change research initiative, help establish climate observation stations in developing countries and work with the EU and Japan on enhanced computer modelling of climate change. His repeated references to US "leadership" of the process, however, were unlikely to endear him to Europeans, or to the Japanese, both of whom ­ according to an American press report yesterday ­ are ahead of the US in climate research.

Mr Bush's speech was immediately attacked by the environmental group Friends of the Earth, which accused him of ignoring the "realists" in his own cabinet and US allies abroad and staging "a dangerous sideshow". "It's time for the world to ratify Kyoto," it said.

The biggest sticking point is the question of mandatory emissions reductions, which Mr Bush has said would be too costly for US consumers. However, at least two "doves" in his administration ­ the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Todd Whitman ­ are said to have tried in vain to convince Mr Bush to accept at least some curbs as the only way to undo some of the damage done to his image abroad by summarily rejecting Kyoto.

The president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi, said in Luxembourg yesterday that he hoped America would show "constructive flexibility" on climate change, but he stipulated that it should be within the framework of the Kyoto protocol ­ that is, that it should entail mandatory reductions. Mr Bush said over the weekend that the US intended to take part in the next round of discussions on implementing Kyoto, which take place in Bonn next month. However, he also seemed to be searching for other forums that could circumvent Kyoto.

An American poll conducted on another subject likely to prove divisive during Mr Bush's European trip, showed a bare majority of Americans favoured the development of a national missile defence system (51 per cent), compared with 38 per cent who opposed such a system. The same poll, conducted by the Pew Research Centre, showed only 10 per cent of those asked agreeing that the main threat to US security came from enemy missile attack, while 77 per cent thought it came from terrorists bringing weapons into the country.

The poll suggested that Mr Bush's argument that the next great threat to US security is from enemy missiles, especially from "rogue" nations such as North Korea, is having as little impact on his compatriots as it is on America's allies.