The U.S. climate bill was welcomed in Europe on Monday as a key step toward a new international agreement to control global warming, though officials noted that it was late and that it was only a start.

Europe has been waiting for the United States to catch up and move out in front in containing pollution blamed for climate change, a move considered a prerequisite to reaching a deal in December in Copenhagen on a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

U.S. resistance to strong international action on climate change during the eight years of the Bush administration was seen in Europe as holding back negotiations and was an irritant in Washington's relations with the 27-nation European Union.

Sweden's environment minister, Andreas Carlgren, said the climate bill that narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Friday brought Europe and the U.S. closer together as they head toward Copenhagen.

"We still hope and expect for more. I see this as a first step," Carlgren told The Associated Press from Stockholm.

A similar bill still must pass the Senate, where opposition is expected to be even tougher.

Artur Runge-Metzger, who heads the climate division of the European Commission, said Europe was encouraged by the speed with which the House passed the bill, and is confident the U.S. will complete the climate legislation. "The question is how long it will take."

It would be enough, he said, if "an almost final version" of the law is ready when negotiators from 192 countries convene in the Danish capital for the final round of talks on a new climate deal.

Runge-Metzger criticized the U.S. bill for failing to provide funds to help poor countries adapt to climate change.

Carlgren, whose country will hold the rotating presidency of the European Union during the meeting in December, said he expected the U.S. delegation at the international talks to come up with financing for poor countries, although it may be separate from the current legislation.

A central aspect of the U.S. bill is the creation of a carbon market. Total carbon emissions would be capped and U.S. industries would receive pollution allowances that they could trade among themselves. Critics say the cap and trade plan will sharply increase consumer energy prices and will be an unacceptable burden on the poor.

Europe has had an emissions trading scheme in place since 2005, and Runge-Metzger said the effect on prices has been "modest."

"Consumers also responded by trying to save energy. The total electricity bill has not gone up as much as expected," he said in an interview from EU headquarters in Brussels.

The Copenhagen agreement would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012. Kyoto required 37 industrial countries to reduce carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases by 5 percent from 1990 levels, and made no demands on developing countries.

Negotiations over the past 18 months have deadlocked because of industrial countries' demands that developing countries spell out how they intend to contribute to combating climate change, while the developing countries want specific commitments from the richer countries on deep emissions cuts.

The Europeans were the first to pledge a reduction figure — 20 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, rising to a 30 percent cut if other countries sign on. The U.S. bill would bring U.S. emissions down to about 4 percent below 1990.

"Maybe we are a bit ahead because we started earlier, both on emissions reduction and on adaptation," said Carlgren. "But I think the administration is moving very fast, and I welcome that. There are still five months ahead of us. I expect them to use it well."