EC bickers over ratifying Rio treaty: Internal disputes have made the Community a laggard on the issue of global warming

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The Independent Online
A YEAR after the European Commmunity took the lead in calling for binding reductions in the man- made gases that cause global warming, the 12 are holding up ratification of the convention agreed at the Rio Earth Summit.

The delay hurts the EC's image in two important ways: before its citizens who are concerned about the role it is playing in curbing global warming. And before the developing world, which is already resentful about being told to adopt environmental protection measures that could hold up their economic progress.

Two years before the signing of the Climate Convention, the Community proclaimed itself an international leader on the climate issue, but internal disputes between the 12 over measures such as carbon tax have made it a laggard. Britain - already locked in an ugly dispute with Norway over acid rain - has been holding up EC ratification of the climate treaty. It objects to the carbon tax plan, which has the enthusiastic backing of six countries, including Germany, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, that are keen to get their national pollution control plans in motion.

The European Commission also wants the energy tax to be the central plank of the Community's climate measures.

Britain's dispute with Norway, which prompted that country's environment minister, Thorbjorn Berntsen, to refer to the British Environment Secretary, John Gummer, as a 'drittsekk' (shitbag) because of the damage done to Norway by acid rain from Britain, is also due to erupt again next week, when officials discuss the blight affecting trees across the continent in talks in Geneva. The Norwegians say that a third of the sulphur pollution they suffer comes from Britain, and Mr Berntsen's undiplomatic outburst reflected years of pent up frustration at Britain.

The EC's delay in ratifying the climate treaty threatens the timely entry of measures to keep the 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere from burning coal, oil and gas at the same level by the end of the century. On current trends the EC will fail to meet even the modest programme of 'greenhouse gas' cuts.

Despite being to the forefront in the Rio negotiations last year, the Community is conspicuously absent from the list of 31 nations that have ratified the treaty. With 6 per cent of the world's population and 15 per cent of carbon dioxide emissions, it even lags behind the United States and Japan in getting the treaty ratified.

Fifty countries must ratify before it goes into effect, and a move by the 12 along with the European Free Trade Association countries would ensure its coming into force, as other countries would then join as well.