US rebuffs Europe on climate

by Julian Borger in Washington and Ian Black in Brussels
guardian unlimited

An EU delegation hurriedly dispatched to Washington after the Bush administration disowned the Kyoto treaty on global warming last week expressed disappointment yesterday that US negotiators ruled out any role in implementing the agreements and offered no alternatives.

Kjell Larsson, the Swedish environment minister who led the delegation, said he was happy that the Bush environment team accepted the existence of global warming - a conclusion widely challenged in the US - and that a US delegation would be sent to Bonn in July for talks on climate change.

However, the Europeans failed to win an undertaking from Christine Todd Whitman, the head of the US environmental protection agency (EPA), to attend the meeting in person. "She has not committed to that," an EPA spokesman said yesterday.

The Europeans also made no progress in persuading the administration to soften its outright rejection of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and its targets for greenhouse gas emissions.

"We had hoped for a small opening," Mr Larsson said, "and we didn't get that."

The delegation was snubbed by the head of the Senate environment committee, Bob Smith, a rightwing Republican from New Hampshire who cancelled a meeting on Monday and refused to reschedule it. In fact, the Europeans did not meet any of the administration's real power-brokers.

Instead, they held talks with Gary Edson, a mid-level White House official with environmental responsibilities, and Ms Whitman, whose own ad vice to support the Kyoto deal was ignored by Mr Bush.

After the meeting, Ms Whitman restated the president's objections to Kyoto, saying it was "unfair to the United States and to other industrialised nations" because it exempted developing nations.

"Today I emphasised to members of the European community that I continue to be as optimistic as the president that, working constructively with our friends and allies through international processes, we can develop technologies, market-based incentives, and other innovative approaches to global climate change," she said in a written statement.

However, Margot Wallstrom, the EU commissioner for the environment, said there appeared to be little substance behind Ms Whitman's expressions of good will.

She said: "We tried to interpret in a positive way what was being said here - that they are interested in continuing international relations, but they do not for today have any answers on how to do that."

On Friday Ms Wallstrom and the environment ministers of Sweden and Belgium will begin a tour taking them to Russia, Iran, China and Japan.

Brussels is making clear that even if the final message from Washington is that the US is pulling out of the agreement, the EU is sticking with it - and looking for allies who will follow suit.

Further pressure on the US came last night from the German environment minister, Jürgen Trittin. "If they don't want to participate, we expect that the United States will tolerate the process and not block it," said Mr Trittin, a Green.