EU agrees to ratify Rio treaty

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AFTER months of wrangling, the European Union has agreed to ratify a UN treaty on combating global warming. A compromise was reached early yesterday after EU environment ministers had argued through the night.

Six EU nations, including Germany and the Netherlands, had insisted that a community- wide carbon tax was needed for Europe to stabilise rising emissions of global-warming carbon dioxide gas at current levels by the year 2000 - a key requirement of the climate protection treaty drawn up for the 1992 Rio Earth Summit.

But Britain had led the opposition, saying such a tax on fossil fuels was unnecessary and would harm the EU's industrial competitiveness. The Environment Minister, Tim Yeo, said Britain would be able to achieve stabilisation of emissions through measures such as VAT on domestic fuel and power, and gradually increasing motoring taxes.

Britain and Germany have just ratified the treaty individually. The rest of the 12 member states will follow shortly, and the commission will ratify for the EU as a whole by the year's end.

In theory this joint action by such a large group of advanced industrial nations should mark an important advance to combat the threat of climate change in the next century. But in practice the deal struck in the small hours in Brussels has elements of fudge and uncertainty in it.

Far from stabilising, the poorer EU nations - Spain, Portugal, Greece and Ireland - are expected to increase their carbon dioxide emissions between now and the year 2000 as they industrialise. The hope was that their increases would be compensated by richer nations such as Germany cutting emissions, so that the EU as a whole would stabilise. But the wealthy nations have not yet offered enough in the way of carbon dioxide cuts to fully compensate for the increases of the poorer states.