“The Kyoto Protocol is not dead,” Kjell Larsson, Minister for the Environment for Sweden, currently holding the EU Presidency, announced, after the Informal Meeting of Ministers for the Environment in Kiruna, northern Sweden from 30 March – 1 April. “The climate process goes on and we shall work actively to obtain an agreement, even if the USA is not part of it.”

“Even if the USA is not a member, we shall continue the process with other countries, aiming to ratify the Kyoto Protocol next year,” Larsson continued, referring to President Bush’s announcement of opposing the climate change agreement (see related story) and the US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s description of the agreement as “dead”. The 15 environment ministers stated that no individual country is entitled unilaterally to declare that a multilateral agreement is dead. “All countries must bear their responsibility for the Kyoto Protocol, especially countries with high emissions of carbon dioxide, such as the USA”, Larsson said. “But the Kyoto Protocol will not fail just because the USA does not join. At any rate, we are prepared to find a solution even without them.”

The minister added that discussions with the US would continue. A European Commission team which, the following week headed to Washington to attempt to persuade Bush to change his mind, failed, however, with the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Christine Whitman, until last week a Kyoto supporter, describing the treaty as “unfair to the United States.” Larsson commented that he had hoped the EU could find “a small opening” or sign that talks on the treaty could be revived, but “we didn’t get that”.

The main theme of the meeting was supposed to have been biodiversity, with the recent adoption of four action plans to integrate the protection of biodiversity into EU agricultural, fishery, environment and development and co-operation policies (see related story). “If we treated the terrestrial environment the way we treat the marine one, there would have been an environmental revolution,” Larsson commented, calling for more attention to be paid to marine biodiversity.

Ministers also discussed a consultation document on a plan for sustainable development which is to be finalised in June. The document calls for action in six areas chosen because of their “severity, potential irreversibility and because they are common to several or all member states”. The issues are: climate change and clean energy; public health; management of natural resources; poverty and social exclusion: ageing and demography; and mobility, land use and territorial development.

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