The US refusal to ratify the Kyoto Agreement
sparked off international protests

The Group of Eight countries meeting in Paris, avoided tougher environmental issues that have divided the United States and Europe in their statement Sunday.

 

The final communiqué made only a passing reference to climate change, which many scientists describe as the biggest long-term peril facing human life.

 

For the first time since President George W Bush came to power, the annual meeting failed to make any mention at all of the Kyoto Protocol, the UN's global warming pact, which has become one of the biggest sources of discord between Washington and Brussels.

 

Instead, the G8 made a vague pledge to "reduce greenhouse gas emissions" to help achieve "the ultimate objective" of Kyoto's parent treaty, the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

 

The Bush administration, the world's biggest source of heat-trapping pollution, caused a major international controversy when it walked away from Kyoto mainly on the grounds of the cost to its oil-dependent economy. Russia has also delayed ratifying the accord.

 

Russian and US presidents Vladimir Putin
and George Bush have had reservations
 about the Kyoto Agreement

Elsewhere, the powerful nations' club reforged their commitment to developing countries, saying the goals set in the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg, ranging from access to safe drinking water, energy safe sanitation to conserving biodiversity, were "priority fields for action."

 

But no new money was put on the table.

 

France proposes reforms

France pushed for a "World Environment Organisation" that would put the environment on the same world footing as global trade, French Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot said on the sidelines of a G8 meeting here Saturday.

 

"The only world organisation which governs trade is the World Trade Organisation," Bachelot said.

 

"We want environmental criteria to be taken into account in the same way. At the moment that is virtually not the case... In the future, no policy would be able to exempt itself from the need to protect the environment," she said.

 

Bachelot made her remarks on the radio station Europe 1 on the second day of a three-day Group of Eight (G8) environment ministers' meeting.

 

France first floated the idea of a World Environment Organisation three years ago.

 

The agency would be built on the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and bring under one roof environmental departments that are scattered around other UN and multilateral agencies.

 

The new entity would broadly act as a watchdog on environment issues, monitoring adherence to international treaties.

 

The Iraq war had disastrous consequences
for the environment

The notion has yet to make any headway internationally -- it was supported only by Sweden when President Jacques Chirac proposed it in Johannesburg, according to diplomatic sources -- but it is gaining ground amongst Europe's powerful green movement.

 

Bachelot admitted it would "not be easy" to persuade the United States to back the scheme.

 

Part of the reason was because of "the international context," she said, using a codeword for the sharp tensions that have flared between Paris and Washington about the Iraqi war.

 

The squabble cast a long shadow over the G8 meeting, prompting the agenda and final communique to be purged of anything controversial.

 

Protests

The meeting was initially scheduled to take place in Angers, a provincial town in the northwestern France that is also in Bachelot's constituency. But the talks were shifted to Paris, a decision taken at the height of the war for security reasons.

 

About 3,000 anti-globalisation and green activists held a protest march and rally in Angers on Saturday as the ministers had lunch at a local chateau and made a courtesy tour of a nearby beauty spot.

 

The demonstrators were addressed by French campaigner Jose Bove, who accused the G8 countries of seeking to "grab the world's wealth and subjugate the environment to their economic needs."

 

"Water, air and biodiversity must not be the property of a hundred multinational corporations," he said.

 

Oil tankers overhauled

Progress was achieved on the gave a verbal push Sunday for tougher measures against decrepit oil tankers following the catastrophic sinking of an oil tanker off Europe's Atlantic coast last November, in the second such disaster in just three years.

 

In a nod to this, the G8 environment ministers said that the environmental disaster "demonstrated that the existing rules on tanker safety and pollution prevention need to be further improved."

 

They backed calls for the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to require the tanker industry to set up additional funds to work towards accelerating the phasing out of single hulled tankers."

 

US-French tension

With the war in Iraq still rumbling on the international scene, every effort was made to avoid further disputes.

 

But tension between the US and France continued as the US representative at the Paris meeting, Environmental Protectional Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman, failed to show up at a scheduled press conference along with the other ministers, sparking questions from journalists as to whether this was a US snub of France, the current G8 chairman.

 

French Ecology Minister Roselyne Bachelot insisted that Whitman had had to "rush off to catch a plane" to take her to New York, and affirmed that she and Whitman had met informally several times during the weekend and had "extremely strong and cordial working contacts."

 

The G8 comprises Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Russia and the United States, as well as the European Commission.