- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 15, 2002

LONDON Leftist politicians and environmentalists sought yesterday to link Europe's worst floods in decades to U.S. reluctance to endorse the Continent's approach to fighting global warming.
The target of their efforts was the Bush administration's decision not to support the Kyoto protocol.
The torrential rains, which have killed dozens of people across Europe and threatened treasured landmarks from Prague to Dresden, hit about two weeks before a U.N. environmental conference in Johannesburg.
Conferees there are expected also to discuss heavy downpours in Nepal, Iran and the Philippines, as well as the destruction of harvests from droughts in southern Africa, Vietnam, Australia and the United States.
Meanwhile, in Germany, where the Social Democratic Party of Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is trailing in polls before elections scheduled for Sept. 22, leftist politicians were eyeing the floods as a campaign issue, blaming German conservatives for their lack of wholehearted support toward global-warming efforts.
Conservatives led by Christian Democratic party leader Edward Stoiber accused the left of trying to make political capital out of human misery.
Members of the Greens party, Mr. Schroeder's coalition partner, which has been losing public support, said the floods highlighted the importance of environmental protection and reinforced the case for energy taxes, which conservatives reject.
"If we don't want [volatile weather] to get worse, then we must continue with the consistent reduction of environmentally harmful greenhouse gases," Environment Minister Juergen Trittin said on German radio.
Mr. Schroeder was highly visible as he toured devastated areas and contrasted his government's track record on the environment to that of states run by his conservative opponents.
However, he did not directly attribute blame as he announced plans to raise funds for disaster relief, mainly in the formerly communist east of the country, where eight persons have been reported dead in the state of Saxony, which includes the city of Dresden.
Army helicopters flew more than 400 Dresden hospital patients to safety yesterday as authorities sought to empty the city, which was waist-deep in places, ahead of a flood crest expected last night, Reuters news agency reported.
Cities further down the Elbe River, including Dessau and Magdeburg, also braced for the floods.
About 180 miles upstream, hastily erected defenses succeeded in protecting medieval buildings and frescoes in Prague as the waters of the Vltava River reached their crest and began to ebb slightly, said relieved authorities.
Environmentalists across Europe linked the flooding to global warming.
Benedict Southworth, speaking for Greenpeace UK, the British chapter of the global environmental organization, said that temperature records were being broken across Europe and that the frequency of extreme events would increase.
"Now we're getting the first sense of urgency of what it will be like when climate change really starts to bite," he said.
Gallus Cadonau, the managing director of the Swiss Greina Foundation for the preservation of Alpine rivers and streams, urged that a punitive tariff on imports from the United States be imposed to force cooperation on greenhouse gas emissions.
"This definitely has to do with global warming. We must change something now," he said. "Those nations that really are careless with the environment should have to compensate."
U.N. Environment Program chief Klaus Toepfer also got into the act, saying this instance of extreme weather should convince rich nations of the need to act quickly to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are believed to contribute to global warming.
"We must massively fight that, and it is above all an obligation of industrialized countries," Mr. Toepfer told a Berlin radio station.
The United States produces a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions. It has been the target of European environmentalists after President Bush last year pulled out of the Kyoto agreement on reducing greenhouse gases, saying it would cripple the U.S. economy and give unfair exemptions to developing countries.
But other Europeans are less certain that global warming is to blame for the floods. Mr. Trittin said global warming was by no means the only cause.
He also attributed blame to construction along riverbanks and flood plains. "In many cases, we don't need more dikes but fewer dikes. Rivers should not be forced to act like canals but [be] given the space to spread onto the plains," he said.
In Romania, where 10 persons have died because of bad weather in recent weeks, Ion Simion, adviser to the Environment Ministry, said cutting down forests in his country and elsewhere in Europe contributed significantly.

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