On 31 May the European Union and its fifteen member states formally ratified the Kyoto Protocol. Ratification by the member states came into effect simultaneously and means they are are now legally committed to the Kyoto framework to address climate change. It brings to 70 the total of signed up states, and brings closer the attainment of the second threshold for the Protocol’s entry into force, namely ratification by countries responsible for 55 per cent of the industrialised countries’ emissions in 1990.

Jaume Matas, President of the EU ouncil of ministers of environment, noted that “the fact that today we can announce that the European Union has fulfilled its political commitment regarding the Kyoto Protocol, is … the expression of the conviction of the millions of citizens of the EU that the Kyoto Protocol is the best instrument available for achieving our common goal, and their commitment to it”. Environment commissioner Margot Wallström saw it as an historic moment for global efforts to combat climate change but emphasised that the targets in the Kyoto Protocol are only a first step to preventing the severe consequences that climate change could have. All countries, she said, have to act, but the industrialised countries have to take the lead. Climate change can only be tackled effectively through a multilateral process. Jaume Matas, emphasising this reference to the USA’s refusal to ratify Kyoto, went on to say that “the challenges of our time…can only be addressed successfully through instruments of multilateral cooperation”.

Ministers welcomed progress by other countries including Japan, Norway, New Zealand, Russia, EU candidate countries and many developing countries towards ratification. Commissioner Wallström stressed the need for further EU emission reduction measures: “The European Commission has already proposed measures to reduce emissions… including an EU-wide emissions trading scheme to begin in 2005. Further proposals are in the pipeline. But all member states have the responsibility to ensure that they meet their targets.” Meanwhile the Japanese House of Representatives has approved a government proposal to ratify the Protocol. The issue will now pass to the House of Councillors which must approve a bill stipulating measures for achieving Japan’s targets which require Japan to cut its emissions by 6 per cent based on 1990 levels by 2012.

Achievement of the 55 per cent figure, will, with the US government refusing to comply, require Russia and eastern European nations to ratify. World leaders hope that sufficient countries will have complied for Kyoto to come into force during the World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa in August. This may prove difficult because Russia looks unlikely to ratify before end-2002. New national guidelines are currently being debated in the Russian Diet.