BANFF, Alberta - A weekend of talks on strengthening the role of environmental issues in sustainable development became another forum for European countries to criticize U.S. rejection of the Kyoto Protocol (news - web sites).
Environment ministers of the world's industrial powers finished their annual meeting Sunday by calling for the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development to include environmental concerns in setting policy.
A final statement by the ministers from G-8 nations — the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, along with the European Union — said the environment continues to be degraded worldwide.
To effectively combat poverty and promote economic growth in developing nations, the sustainable development summit in South Africa in August must make environmental considerations "a full part of the thinking, and not an afterthought," Canadian environment minister David Anderson said.
He expressed frustration that climate change, and particularly the Kyoto Protocol, became the major topic of the post-meeting news conference even though it occupied only one paragraph of the four-page final statement.
Canada had tried to prevent the issue from dominating the meeting. The formal agenda did not mention the Kyoto agreement that requires reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, but it came up in every discussion and was the focus of a breakfast meeting Sunday, delegates said.
The Bush administration has rejected the protocol, saying it would put too great a burden on the U.S. economy. Bush is proposing an incentive-driven plan intended to induce voluntary reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other industrial pollutants blamed as contributing factors in global warming.
European ministers expressed their dissatisfaction with the U.S. stance, calling climate change an international problem that required an international agreement with full participation by such a major emitter of greenhouse gases.
"The basic problem is that the United States has chosen to stand outside the (Kyoto) protocol," said Margot Wallstrom, the European Commission environment commissioner. She and Germany's Jurgen Trittin both called the Bush administration's inadequate.
"We don't think it's enough that the United States is doing," Wallstrom said.
Trittin said he had trouble understanding U.S. arguments that Kyoto restrictions would harm the American economy, saying Germany had reduced greenhouse gas emissions without significant problems.
"We are convinced that reduction of carbon dioxide is not a harm to the economy," Trittin said.
He also said the Bush administration's policy was politically motivated to prevent substantial changes in U.S. consumption. Cheap energy in the past created a U.S. lifestyle that consumes more energy than other countries, and forcing too much change too quickly would be politically dangerous, Trittin said.
Christie Whitman, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, acknowledged the deep differences about U.S. policy but said the Bush administration's refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol "is not changing."
She said the United States wants to reduce the intensity of its greenhouse gas emissions by 18 percent over the next 15 years, a period in which the U.S. economy is expected to double in size. Whitman said Washington also wants to work with other countries on how to achieve a similar result — stronger economies with less pollution.
"What we're trying to do is show the way to decouple that economic growth from a similar growth, commensurate growth in greenhouse gas emissions," she said.
Canada, which once fully supported ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, now is wavering due to energy industry concerns that Canadian companies would face a disadvantage against U.S. competitors.
The European ministers all urged Canada to ratify the protocol this year and said they expected that to happen. Wallstrom, however, rejected a Canadian idea to get credits for reducing emissions for natural gas exports — a cleaner source of energy than oil or coal — to the United States.
To take effect, the Kyoto accord must be ratified by 55 countries, including industrialized countries representing at least 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. With America out, just about every other industrialized country must ratify.
Anderson berated journalists for asking repeated questions about the Kyoto Protocol instead of focusing on environmental health issues and other topics of the weekend talks.
"I mentioned earlier that a child dies every 10 seconds, every 10 seconds," he said, repeating the figure for emphasis. "Think how many children have died since we began this press conference. ... I'm happy to talk about climate change frequently, but I'd like occasionally to recognize the problems of children's health."
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