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EU Agrees to Ratification of Kyoto Global Warming Agreement - 2002-03-04

European Union environment ministers, meeting in Brussels, have agreed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, which was rejected last year by the United States. The 15 ministers failed, however, to set emissions reduction levels in their own countries in order to comply with the requirements of the protocol.

Spanish Environment Minister Jaume Matas, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, was sounding upbeat Monday, hailing his colleagues' decision to back the Kyoto Protocol as an historic agreement that will save the most far-reaching international environmental accord ever signed.

Mr. Matas calls the Kyoto Protocol the best instrument to fight climate change, which he describes as the most serious environmental problem facing humanity.

The Spanish minister says the EU's backing of the protocol will spur other countries to ratify the agreement before a United Nations conference on sustainable development in South Africa later this year.

Though no EU country has as yet ratified the accord, Mr. Matas says they all agreed to do so by June.

To become legal, the Kyoto Protocol needs to be ratified by 55 countries.

The United States backed out of the agreement, saying it would harm the U.S. economy and cost too many jobs. President Bush has presented an alternative plan that calls on power plants to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury. But compliance with the proposals would be mostly voluntary.

EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom says Mr. Bush's proposals will do little to reduce worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases. "This is not very much beyond business as usual ... It will increase their greenhouse gas emissions with up to, as far as our calculations show, up to 33 percent," she said. "And we think that is not good enough, of course."

The EU has promised to reduce emissions by eight percent of 1990 levels by the year 2012. But ministers were unable to agree on how their countries will make those reductions. So they gave themselves until the end of 2006 to do so. That's when the Kyoto-mandated reductions are supposed to go into effect.

Ms. Wallstrom says the European Commission, the EU's executive body, will take any EU member state that fails to comply with the emissions reduction targets to court, once the levels are agreed upon.