Hailing a step forward in attempts to save the planet, the EU yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to the Kyoto treaty on global warming - and told the US that it should make the same commitment.
EU environment ministers meeting in Brussels gave their formal blessing to the decision, which means that the EU will now complete ratification of the treaty by June 1.
Kyoto commits the EU to reduce its emissions of greenhouse gases to eight per cent below 1990 levels during the five years from 2008 to 2012.
Belgian Environment Minister Magda Aelvoet looks at paintings of ancient forests made by children outside the EU Council headquarters in Brussels, Monday, March 4, 2002.The Kyoto Protocol on global warming was set to get a boost on Monday with ratification by the 15 nation European Union.(AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
Greenpeace called it a "historic" move that would allow the treaty to come into force by the time of the world summit on sustainable development in August - the 10th anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Rio.
But the impact of the announcement was marred when EU member governments failed to set their own emission levels to meet Kyoto targets. Individual targets will now be decided by the European Commission.
Nevertheless, the decision increases pressure on the US president, George Bush, who angered many countries during his first months in office by unilaterally pulling out of the pact, arguing that it would damage the US economy.
EU member states have also been sharply critical of the US climate change strategy announced last month, which aims to encourage industries to cut emissions without setting mandatory targets.
"By taking this decision, the EU has reaffirmed its commitment to pursuing multilateral solutions to issues of global concern," the commission said. "The EU continues to call for the United States to participate in the global framework for addressing climate change."
Romano Prodi, the president of the commission, said: "We can only tackle climate change effectively through a multilateral process."
Since the US withdrawal, the EU has taken the initiative in global warming talks in Germany and Morocco, and led efforts to ensure that big industrial countries like Russia, Japan and Canada stick with Kyoto.
The treaty will only become legally binding when it has been ratified by 55 of the signatories, who between them must have accounted for at least 55% of developed countries' 1990 emissions.
The US produced one third of those emissions and the EU a quarter. Without the US, almost all other developed countries must ratify the treaty if it is to come into force.
Greenpeace said Washington should now see the flaws in its strategy, which it suggested was meant to help the oil industry. "After President Bush slammed the door on the Kyoto protocol in March 2001 - and the very bad joke of the Bush-Exxon climate plan last month - it is now time for the USA to come back to the Kyoto protocol," it said.
"We should all remember that the Kyoto targets are a very small but crucial first step towards protecting the earth's climate. Industrialized countries must actually reduce their emissions by 80% by 2050 if ministers really want to protect the life of our children and grandchildren. There is no time to waste."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002