Europe's top environment official has made a blunt attack on President George Bush's stance on climate change, claiming it has "sent a wave of shock and resentment across the world", and could lead to a crisis in transatlantic relations.
In an attack on the United States President, Margot Wallström, the European commissioner for the environment, told The Independent that Mr Bush's comments last week were "totally unacceptable".
A very, very serious statement and totally unacceptable to the outside world
Europe's top environment official on Bush reversal on global warming
Mr Bush will abandon a campaign promise to regulate power station emissions of carbon dioxide, the "greenhouse gas" believed to cause global warming. In doing so President Bush threatened the already weak US commitment to the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 climate change treaty, discussion on which broke down last November at The Hague.
The US is the world's biggest producer of carbon dioxide and with 4 per cent of the global population, it produces nearly a quarter of the world's total "greenhouse gas" emissions. President Bush's move, while not directly linked to the protocol, will undermine the US's ability to meet its emissions reduction targets.
Ms Wallström said that if President Bush's comments were "a little thoughtless or a spontaneous reaction ... he has to realise that the eyes of the outside world are on him, and what the US is going to do."
She continued: "This is not a simple environmental issuewhere you can say it is an issue where the scientists are not unanimous. This is about international relations, this is about economy about trying to create a level playing field for big businesses throughout the world. You have to understand what is at stake and that is why it is serious."
Failure to reach an agreement on gas emissions would, she said, "create a very difficult atmosphere for international relations", including the transatlantic relationship. There would be an "enormous backlash" if negotiations ended in failure, she added. An attempt to reach a deal before the White House changed hands in January failed, and environmentalists have made little secret of their alarm at the President's close links to the oil industry.
The new US administration has pledged to review its position on climate change talks and the EU is, for the moment, not treating Mr Bush's comments as the formal conclusion of that process.
But Ms Wallström said the President's declaration was a "very, very serious statement and totally unacceptable to the outside world and I think this is what we have to make absolutely clear".
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd.