Russian government approves Kyoto Protocol

The Russian government has taken a large step toward environmental respectability by approving the Kyoto Protocol. It has sent the final decision to the State Duma lower house where full ratification looks certain.

News agency Interfax reported that the government has given its ministries three months to implement Russian obligations under the Protocol.

Russian agreement to the Protocol has, in many ways, been crucial to its success since the US pulled out in 2001 (see related story) as it is responsible for 17% of global CO2 emissions. Their inclusion will take the full amount from signatories over the 55% threshold needed to initiate the Protocol. It would become legally binding 90 days after Russia formally ratifies.

The Kyoto agreement contains legally binding emissions targets for 36 industrialised countries which will have to reduce their collective emissions of six key greenhouse gases by at least 5% by 2008-2012, compared to 1990 levels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been sceptical about the agreement in the past while he weighed the economic benefits against the diplomatic ones, but did finally say, in May of this year, that he would ratify the Protocol as soon as he could (see related story). This was in spite of the fact that one of his senior economic advisors called the Kyoto agreement an “international Auschwitz” a month earlier (see related story).

However, Putin’s final decision to support the Protocol has brought praise from governments and campaigning groups the world over.

UK Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: “I am delighted by President Putin’s decision to send the Protocol to the Duma for ratification. It is the right thing for Russia, for Europe, and for the global community. It is a timely boost for Britain’s plans for international dialogue on climate change in 2005.”

Executive Secretary of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, Ms Joke Waller-Hunter, said: “President Putin’s leadership sends an inspiring signal to the international community. After a short celebration we must all get down to the serious business of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.”

Russia’s statement has also brought a rapid rise in the price of traded carbon as traders anticipate a huge kickstart to the emissions trading industry. Some analysts predict that Russia could earn up to US$10 billion from selling its quotas on the carbon market.

The country has to reduce its emissions to 1990 levels, but its reduced industrial output compared to capacity means it should have vast quotas of carbon credits left to trade.

The statement also leaves the US looking increasingly isolated on the global environmental stage. It is the world’s single biggest polluter, accounting for over 20% of global emissions.

US governments have, in the past, said the Protocol is too expensive and unfair because developing countries are not bound to the same specific targets.

Despite this, a number of developing countries such as Mexico, China, Brazil and India have managed to cut their emissions quite significantly from the transport, energy and forestry sectors, while emissions from the US have risen year on year.

Governments will discuss their efforts to achieve their Kyoto targets and other actions to address climate change at the next major conference in Buenos Aires I December, at the 10th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP10).

By David Hopkins

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