PARIS -- Europeans reacted sharply Thursday to President George W. Bush's repudiation of the Kyoto global warming treaty, with France denouncing it as a scandal and an alarmed European Union announcing it would send top-ranking representatives to Washington.
French Environment Minister Dominique Voynet said: "Mr Bush's unilateral attitude is a scandal."
His behaviour was "entirely provocative and irresponsible," she added.
The European Commission announced in Brussels it will send a delegation to Washington next week for talks with the Bush administration.
Italy's Environment Minister Willer Bordon called the US move "extremely serious". He said Washington should be forced to state its position officially.
If Washington persisted in renouncing the Kyoto Protocol, which limits emissions of greenhouse gases, then Europe, Russia and Japan should implement the accord unilaterally, he said.
British Environment Minister Michael Meacher said: "This is not the end of the story. There is clearly a power struggle going on in Washington and we have to keep hammering on."
He told Sky News television there was a series of negotiations coming up, including a G8 economic summit in Genoa and a summit in Sweden in July which Bush would attend, when European politicians could put pressure on him to respect the Kyoto Protocol.
"This is not just an environmental issue. We are talking about a transatlantic and global foreign policy issue," Meacher said. As the United States discharged a quarter of the global total of greenhouse gases it was unthinkable for it not to be part of the treaty.
The planet faced extreme weather conditions if nothing was done to reduce the polluting gases caused by transport and industry.
The White House announcement that Bush had effectively ditched the 1997 accord came only days after the EU reaffirmed its commitment. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the accord "is not in the United States' economic best interest."
But Meacher said climate change was "the most dangerous and fearful challenge to humanity over the next 100 years.
"If temperatures rise six degrees, then parts of the world are going to become uninhabitable, have droughts on a scale that we have never seen, tornadoes and floods and extreme weather conditions."
Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, in Washington for talks with Bush, said he would conduct candid but friendly talks with him on the issue.
No major European nation has actually ratified the accord. Negotiations to agree on rules collapsed in The Hague last November amid divisions within the EU and accusations Washington was exploiting loopholes to ease the cost of meeting the treaty's targets.
The negotiations are set to resume in Bonn in July.
Charles Secrett, executive director of the environmental pressure group Friends of the Earth, called the US decision "a disaster".
EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom told a Brussels press conference she would go to Washington with representatives of the Swedish EU presidency and the upcoming Belgian presidency.
"We don't like what we are hearing," she said. "We have to make absolutely clear to the United States that this is not a marginal isssue that can be ignored or played down."
- 100 Climate Justice Initiative