European leaders and environmentalists are turning up the heat on President Bush for his refusal to sign onto an international climate change agreement.
On the opening day of his first presidential trip to Europe this afternoon, Bush renewed his opposition to the Kyoto Accord, calling the 1997 plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gasses "flawed" and "unrealistic."
His rejection of the treaty in March triggered a wave of criticism from the European media, including one British newspaper headline: "President George W. Bush, Polluter of the Free World."
"We regret that President Bush continues to reject the Kyoto Protocol," Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson said in a written statement on behalf of the European Union today. "Abandoning the Kyoto Protocol would mean postponing international action to combat climate change for years … We cannot accept this."
In the statement, Larsson signaled the organization's rejection of Bush's proposal to continue research of technologies designed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions believed to contribute to global climate change.
European leaders have until now offered only muted criticism of the Bush's position, but that may soon change as the president and his European counterparts prepare to confront their differences over the controversial issue at the U.S.-E.U. Summit in Sweden Thursday.
The Kyoto Protocol commits industrialized countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5.2 percent by 2012 from 1990 levels.
Bush has argued treaty is unfair because it does not include developing nations and that it would be prohibitively expensive for the U.S. to implement. But the E.U.'s environmental commissioner, Margot Wallstroem, predicted members of the 15-nation group would not only meet the Kyoto requirements, but surpass them without putting major strain on the European economy.
An E.U. study released Monday supported the prediction, adding that E.U. members could cut the cost of implementing Kyoto by almost $1.5 billion per year with energy swapping plans and by shifting to biological fuels.
"I think Bush's new proposals will definitely provoke a negative reaction from the European community," says Jurgen Lefevere, programming director for the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development. "Rejecting Kyoto shows an ignorance of the fundamental environmental values which European people give a lot of attention."
Bush may face a difficult challenge this week as he biggest challenges will be to justify why the United States refuses to ratify a treaty American diplomats spent years helping to draft. The U.S. emits more greenhouse gasses than any other nation, but Bush points out that's because the U.S. also accounts for nearly one-quarter of the world's economic output.
"We've passed this stage years ago," Lefevere says of Bush's latest proposal to boost technological research. "We're ready to take the next step, and that next step was taken in the Kyoto Protocol. Bush is ignoring history and he's ignoring the general opinion of most of the planet."
If the U.S. continues to oppose the treaty it will not stand alone. Other industrialized countries including Canada and Japan have been slow to ratify the treaty and Australia has called for the protocols to be scrapped altogether.
But many Europeans seem determined to keep the issue burning. Lefevere says grassroots activists are organizing boycotts against businesses tied to Bush's 2000 presidential campaign.
Some European politicians angered by the rejection of the treaty have hinted at possible economic retaliation against the U.S. down the road. European Commission President Romano Prodi says the European Union's economic weight as the world's largest trading block will be brought to the negotiating table in Sweden.
French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder also reaffirmed their commitment to ratifying the Kyoto protocol in a meeting today. But neither indicated what action they would consider if Bush refuses to reverse course.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.