Putin finally backs Kyoto

22 October 2004

The Russian cabinet, led by president Vladimir Putin, has backed the Kyoto Protocol – as has the country’s lower house, the State Duma.

On 22 October, the Duma voted 334 to 73 to ratify the accord, which would pass before the upper house on 27 October and then back to Putin who would sign it into law. These steps are seen as formalities given Putin’s tight control of the Duma. Kyoto would then have been ratified by nations producing 55% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (a condition for the protocol to enter into force) and would come into effect 90 days later.

Russia alone accounts for 17% of global emissions, the other 122 signatory countries total 44%.

Negotiated in 1997, the agreement had remained simply a statement of intent but soon signatory nations will be required to reduce emissions of five greenhouse gases to 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. The way is now also open for talks on more stringent reductions – some experts say that emissions must be reduced by 60-80% in order for the atmosphere to stabilise.

Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, described the agreement as the “essential first step in tackling the planetary challenge posed by climate change.” Indeed, Kyoto is the only plan we currently have for controlling potentially damaging emissions but it certainly has its critics: Putin’s economic advisor, Andrei Illarionov, has said that the document has no scientific value and suggested that it contains deliberately distorted figures. The USA’s president Bush, meanwhile, described it as ‘fatally flawed’. That country pulled out of the project in 2001 amid hellish predictions of catastrophic job losses and economic implosion.

The agreement has a number of features that make its impact on different nations more or less beneficial: 1990 was the height of Soviet industrial pollution and, following the collapse of that system, Russia’s emissions are yet to catch up. The country will now have a huge surplus of emissions credits which, if it can develop a sophisticated strategy, may be worth up to $10 billion between now and 2012.

Putin’s extended stalling, however, seems to have secured one key benefit for Russia: it is thought that, in return for the ratification, the European Union will now concede a little more to Russia in World Trade Organisation negotiations.

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