Russia stalls final outcome of international climate talks

Russia, whose participation is essential for the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, has threatened to block agreement at the international Conference of the Parties (COP7) talks in Marrakech, Morocco, over what it sees as it’s insufficient allowance of carbon ‘sinks’.


When edie was published, the outcome of the COP7 talks, which were due to finish on 9 November, was still uncertain, with Russia unhappy over its carbon allowances from its vast forests, although they were already agreed at July’s COP6 talks in Bonn (see related story). Russia’s position has frustrated many nations at the talks and angered environmentalists as the aim of COP7 was merely to take the key principles reached in Bonn and translate them into a detailed ‘rulebook’ to make the Protocol operational, and not to backtrack on agreements already made.

In Bonn, delegates had agreed to Russian demands that its forests soak up at least 17 million metric tonnes of carbon per year, but Russia’s representative at the talks, Yevgeny Utkin, has reportedly demanded that the allowance for its forests be almost doubled, despite the fact that its emissions are now 30% below 1990 levels. This would allow every extra tonne of carbon agreed on to be burned as the equivalent amount of coal and oil, or in Russia’s case, sold under the Protocol’s quota trading arrangements. Sources have said that it looks as if Russia will get an increase in its carbon ‘sinks’ allowance, so that it will stay in the Protocol, and since the US pulled out before Bonn, Russian participation is now essential. This could happen despite that fact that it could open the way for other nations to backtrack on agreements made at Bonn, while Iran’s Environment Minister Massoumeh Ebtekathe, leading the G77 group of developing countries at COP7, said that Russia’s demands were definitely far too high. Further doubt has also been cast this week on the future effectiveness of carbon ‘sinks’ (see this week’s ‘World’ section).

However, while progress had also been held up by Australia, Canada and Japan (see related story), the other nations essential to implementing the Protocol alongside staunch supporters the EU, an agreement was reached on compliance with Kyoto targets. Eventually, dissenting nations agreed that any liable country failing to comply will also lose its right to take part in emissions trading and other ‘flexible mechanisms’ and for every ton of emissions that a country misses its target by, it will be forced to make up for the shortfall after 2012 at a rate of 1.3 tonnes. EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström announced her glee at the move, Tuiloma Neroni Slade, who chaired the talks on compliance, called the compliance system’s strength “unprecedented in international law”, while the WWF announced that “binding consequences are definitely there”.

Japan and New Zealand have also both announced that they intend to ratify the Protocol, although Japan has already made this announcement in the past, only to later retract it.

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