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Europe Alarmed Over US Kyoto Protocol Decision - 2001-03-29

European countries say they are alarmed at the Bush Administration's decision to walk away from a key international environmental agreement. A European Union delegation is going to Washington next week to try to persuade the White House to reconsider its decision to abandon the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

There is confusion, dismay, and even outrage in Europe, following the U.S. decision not to implement the Kyoto Protocol.

International negotiations on climate change, which collapsed last November, are scheduled to re-start in July in Bonn, Germany, and the Europeans expected the Americans to attend.

But the Bush Administration signaled Wednesday that it does not support the agreement because it exempts developing countries from immediately meeting the pollution-reducing targets that industrialized countries must comply with.

Britain is calling the U.S. move exceptionally serious and warns that it could have repercussions on other areas of transatlantic relations.

The Netherlands has sent its environment minister to Washington to seek an explanation for the U.S. decision. France described the U.S. pullout from the agreement as provocative and unilateral.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom says she is worried by the U.S. action. "It makes the climate talks very difficult," Wallstrom says "and we have to first of all find out what exactly this means. Does it mean that they will not come to Bonn? And exactly what are the problems for the United States?"

Ms. Wallstrom says she hopes that U.S. officials will clarify what Washington means when it says it is interested in international talks on climate change.

She says the European Union is willing to discuss details and problems Washington may have with the Kyoto Protocol. But she says the European Union will not scrap the agreement because it is the only international framework to deal with global warming. She says starting from scratch would mean the loss of many years of hard work. Ms. Wallstrom says "I think we also have to make absolutely clear to the United States that this is not an issue which can be regarded as some kind of marginal environmental issue that can be ignored or played down." On the contrary, says Ms. Wallstrom, global warming is closely tied to international relations, trade, and economics. She says it is premature for the European Union to discuss retaliatory measures against the United States, but Green Party members of the European Parliament have already called for a consumer boycott of U.S. oil companies.

EU officials say the Bush Administration may have made the decision to pull out of the agreement because it is worried by the slowing U.S. economy. But they say the new attitude of the United States, which discharges a quarter of the world's polluting greenhouse gases, will probably consign the Kyoto Protocol to the trash heap.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who is visiting President Bush in Washington Thursday, is expected to make an appeal for Mr. Bush to reconsider his decision.