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Alarm after U.S. abandons environment treaty

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'Low point in world environment history'

Britain: Decision 'almost unthinkable'

U.S. argument

Race with time

SYDNEY, Australia -- Britain and Australia have joined Japan in expressing serious concern at a U.S. decision to abandon a 1997 Kyoto environmental treaty against global warming.

They have called on the U.S. to reconsider its position after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said on Wednesday that the United States had effectively abandoned the treaty it earlier signed.


Australian Senator Bob Brown criticizes U.S. decision

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"It is not in the United States' economic best interest," Fleischer said, adding that U.S. President George W. Bush has been "unequivocal" on the matter.

Former president Bill Clinton signed the treaty in 1998, but the U.S. Senate has not yet ratified it.

'Low point in world environment history'

The United States emits about 30 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, according to Australia's Environment Minister Robert Hill.

It is also the world's largest single economy and is seen to be best equipped to tackle the problem of global warming.

The U.S. "cannot easily walk away from that responsibility," Hill said.

"The Kyoto protocol wouldn't work without the United States," Hill told reporters.

"That would mean that the agreement of developed countries to cut greenhouse gases which was made in 1997 would have failed."

Australian senator Bob Brown said the U.S. position on the treaty was "a low point in world environment history."

Britain: Decision 'almost unthinkable'

Scientists widely believe that greenhouse gas emissions -- which result mostly from burning coal and oil -- trap heat in the earth's atmosphere.

The climatic result is said to contribute to global warming which can cause disastrous weather changes.

Britain has labeled Bush's decision to abandon the Kyoto treaty as "almost unthinkable".

Global warming is "the most dangerous and fearful challenge to humanity over the next 100 years," said British environment minister Michael Meacher said in a BBC television interview.

Meacher said the U.S. decision was "extremely serious" and an "issue of transatlantic, global and foreign policy."

The decision has dealt a blow to European hopes of salvaging the pact which seeks to limit industrial-nation emissions of greenhouse gases thought to cause global warming.

The EU said last week that the global warming issue was an integral part U.S.-EU relations.

U.S. argument

U.S. President George W. Bush opposes the Kyoto pact because it does not also bind developing nations to curb emissions.

Bush also believes the costs outweigh the benefits, Fleischer said.

A Cabinet-level review of global warming issues has been ordered to develop a U.S. response to the issue, the White House spokesman added.

U.S. officials said Washington would work with other countries on alternatives to the pact and that it was not considering formally "unsigning" the treaty.

An official said Washington currently plans to attend last-ditch talks on the treaty in Bonn, Germany next July.

Australia hopes the U.S. position is just part of a policy review of the Bush administration which came into office in January.

"I understand their desire to review their whole energy policy and that is not unreasonable for a new administration," Hill said.

Earlier this month, Japan voiced "regret" over Bush's decision not to impose mandatory carbon dioxide emission reductions at electrical power plants.

"Japan has been urging the United States, which emits the largest amount of carbon dioxide, to ratify the Kyoto protocol," government spokesman Yasuo Fukuda said.

Japan said the decision could undermine the global environmental treaty to reduce by 5.2 percent major industrialized nations' emissions by 2012, below 1990 levels.

Race with time

Australian Environmental Minister Robert Hill said he would urge the United States to stay engaged in the fight against global warming.

"Time is against us, we are already starting to experience the consequences of climate change."

Australia, a carbon-intensive economy, said it would continue to reduce its greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol, regardless of the U.S. stance.

Australia is on track to meet its greenhouse emissions target by 2010, Hill said.

The country aims to reduce its greenhouse emissions to eight percent above 1990 levels by 2010.

"Climate change threatens Australia's economy, its future lifestyle and security and could completely remove some Pacific and Indian Ocean island neighbors from existence," Senator Brown said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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