Religious leaders in Europe and the United States have expressed deep concern about the U.S. government's decision last week not to implement the Kyoto Protocol, which is intended to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

The protocol was negotiated at an international meeting in Japan, in 1997.

Europe's leading ecumenical organization, the Conference of European Churches (CEC), has sharply criticized the Bush administration's decision, and has urged the European Union to make "a strong response." At the same time, six senior Christian and Jewish leaders in the U.S. have written to President George W. Bush requesting a meeting with him about his environmental policy, "especially around issues of climate change." Their letter does not directly criticize the U.S. government but is clearly an expression of their concern.

Keith Jenkins, director of CEC's Church and Society Commission has written to Sweden's Deputy Prime Minister, Lena Hjelm-Wallen about the U.S. decision. Sweden currently holds the presidency of the European Union (EU), and Hjelm-Wallen is responsible for coordinating the Swedish government's role as the head of the Council of Ministers of the EU.

Jenkins' letter states that the U.S. decision "puts the narrowest national interest before global responsibility." He calls on "the European Union and its member states [to] condemn the short-sighted approach of the U.S. government, reaffirm their common commitment to the aims of the Kyoto Treaty, maintain their own commitment to reducing emissions and take every step possible to convince the U.S. government that it is in the long-term interests of all, including the people of the U.S., to control emissions before they do irreparable damage to the earth."

Jenkins reminds Hjelm-Wallen that the subject of climate change was raised in a meeting she held with representatives of Swedish and European churches in November 2000. The participants had been encouraged, he says, by the firm line taken on the issue of climate change by the Swedish government.

The churches believed, Jenkins adds, that the Kyoto Treaty was "the best practical hope of undertaking a shared and proportionate responsibility for the effects of global warming."

Asked in a telephone interview with ENI from his office in Brussels whether the U.S. decision to reject the treaty, meant that the agreement was now dead, Jenkins said: "I think it's too early to say if it's absolutely dead. But obviously when a major player backs out, it is in doubt."

He pointed out that the U.S. was the world's "biggest producer of emissions. There is also extra responsibility on the industrialized world which is also the wealthiest part of the world." He added that there was an obvious difficulty if the U.S., the European Union or Japan did not ratify the treaty. "That makes it difficult to sustain.

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"Our first concern as Europeans is to ensure that the European Union and other European states maintain their own commitment and are not pushed off course [by the U.S. decision]," Jenkins told ENI.

According to the International Herald Tribune, the U.S. produces about 25 percent of the world's greenhouse gases, even though the U.S. represents only 4 percent of the world's population. "This lopsided proportion has prompted harsh commentary throughout Europe that the United States is behaving like an arrogant superpower that places itself above the need to make economic sacrifices for the benefit of the world's environment," the IHT reported.

An environment specialist for the World Council of Churches (WCC), which like CEC is based in Geneva, also strongly criticized the U.S. decision. "The rejection of the Kyoto Protocol by the Bush administration is a betrayal of their responsibilities as global citizens," David Hallman, WCC climate change program coordinator, said.

Hallman, who is a member of the United Church of Canada, pointed out that there was increasing evidence that vulnerable peoples, especially in poorer countries, were already suffering from the impact of human-induced climate change. He referred in particular to the past two years of floods in Mozambique, rising sea levels threatening Pacific islands, and persistent years of drought in Africa.

He added: "If the U.S. walks away from the Kyoto Protocol, it just means that another treaty with even more ambitious targets will have to be negotiated in the future as evidence of the devastating impacts of climate change mounts. We encourage all other countries to continue working towards the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol regardless of the U.S. action."

In New York on March 30, the National Council of Churches (NCC), the leading ecumenical body in the U.S., released the text of a letter sent the day before to President Bush by six religious leaders—Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, and leading officials from the NCC, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ and the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

The letter points out that "projected impacts of global warming on the most poor and vulnerable are ethically unacceptable" and adds that "domestic and international action is urgently required. The United States has a moral responsibility to lead the world's nations and to serve its people."

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The letter urges the U.S. government to enact "a credible, binding program to honor international commitments, successfully prevent destructive impacts on humankind and habitat and embody equity."

The religious leaders asked to meet President Bush in June.

Kjell Larsson, Sweden's environment minister, said March 31, during an informal meeting of EU ministers for the environment, that the "Kyoto Protocol is still alive" and that "no individual country has the right to declare a multilateral agreement as dead."

"The EU sticks to the target of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol by 2002 at the latest," Larsson said. "To that end the EU and its member states have started preparations for ratification and will actively continue its efforts to combat climate change, for instance by developing the ECCP [the European Climate Change Program]."

Related Elsewhere

In a lengthy essay, Outside magazine contributing editor Bruce Barcott profiles Christian environmentalism past, present, and future, and suggests that religious activists on both sides of environmental debates will be extremely important, especially during the Bush presidency. (See also Christianity Today Weblog's take on the Outside article.)

Christianity Today's earlier coverage of Christian environmentalism includes:

Unholy Harvest? | Evangelicals join protests against genetically modified "frankenfoods." (May 9, 2000)

U.S. Churches Join Global Warming Debate (Oct. 5, 1998)

God's Green Acres | How Calvin DeWitt is helping Dunn, Wisconsin, reflect the glory of God's good creation. (June 15, 1998)

Greening of the Gospel? | Evangelical environmentalists press to add creation care to the church's mission. (Nov. 11, 1996)

Evangelical Environmentalism Comes of Age (Nov. 11, 1996)

Other articles on the U.S. withdrawal from the Kyoto Treaty include:

Faith-based environmental groups hope Bush sees the light — Scripps Howard News Service (Apr. 3, 2001)

'God's creation is under threat' | Coalition of churches assail decision to withdraw — The Independent (Apr. 1, 2001)

Anger Erupts Over U.S. Move to Ease Controls on EmissionsLos Angeles Times (Mar. 31, 2001)

Coalition raps Bush on global warming | Religious leaders say issue a moral concern — The Washington Post (Mar. 30, 2001)

Bush Criticized for Global Warming — Associated Press (Mar. 30, 2001)

For more articles, see Yahoo's full coverage area on global warming.