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Russia Wavers on Ratification of Kyoto Protocol

Russia has dashed hopes that the Kyoto Protocol on lowering greenhouse gas emissions will take effect soon, saying it agrees in principle to the treaty, but wants more time to study the plan.


Climate change was blamed for a brutally hot summer and dried-up river beds in large parts of Europe.

Scientists and environmental ministers from around the world gather in Moscow next Monday with the fate of the emissions-reducing Kyoto Protocol in the hands of their hosts.

On Thursday, Russia, the environmental kingmaker when it comes to getting the landmark treaty off the ground, delayed a decision on ratifying the protocol, saying it needed time to weigh the consequences before it could be persuaded to sign on the dotted line.

"There is no strict timetable at the moment," Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Gordeyev told reporters on Thursday. "The government in any country... has an obligation to decide what steps it needs to take after signing (the protocol). Gordeyev further cited scientific reasons for Russia’s wavering stance. "The Russian government looks on the Kyoto protocol positively, but we say that the protocol, especially concerning scientific matters, leaves a lot of questions unanswered," he said.

Russia left with casting vote on Kyoto

The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997, aims to slash emissions of gases, in particular carbon dioxide, to counter global warming. The treaty sets individual targets for industrialized countries to lower their emissions of carbon gases, the byproduct of burning fossil fuels, on average by 5.2 percent below their 1990 levels over the next 10 years.

Despite the fact that more than 100 mostly developing nations have already ratified the treaty, the environmental pact suffered a serious setback when the United States, which alone accounts for around 35 percent of the world's greenhouse emissions, pulled out of the treaty in 2001. The U.S. argued the treaty would hurt its economy and also rejected the scientific claims of global warming. Other nations, like Australia, followed the Bush adminstration's stance.

Under the treaty’s complex weighting system, countries responsible for producing 55 percent of greenhouse gases, have to approve it before it comes into force. With the U.S., arguably the world’s largest polluter, out of the fray, the onus is now on Russia to ratify Kyoto and ensure it takes effect.

Moscow wary of investment promises

Apart from scientific reasons, Russia is hesitant to sign because of a clause in the treaty allowing for the creation of a "carbon market", potentially worth billions of dollars a year, where industrialized signatory countries can buy and sell emissions "credits" in order to meet their treaty obligations.

The collapse of the Soviet Union cut Russia's emissions levels down from the 17 percent figure it had when the quotas were set in 1990. As a result, the country has a lot of emission "credits" to sell over-polluters.

But President Vladimir Putin's administration is not sure they'll be any buyers.

"We must receive guarantees, where the money will be put every year. If we ratify, it could all go to Ukraine. We must have firm guarantees about the amount," Gordeyev stressed on Thursday.

Expert: "Huge scope for Russian economy"

The EU, which set the ball rolling on the world’s first international emissions trading market earlier this year, has tried to reassure Russia investment will flow in. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change has also chimed in with words of encouragement for the Putin government.

"There is huge scope for the Russian economy to modernise in such a way that is both economically attractive and at the same time, climate-friendly," the executive secretary of the U.N. agency, Joke-Waller Hunter, told Deutsche Welle.

All may not be lost as yet. Environmentalists and delegates at Moscow’s conference will be hoping Putin, who has said he is broadly in favor of the treaty, will speak at the meeting and yet give the right signal to the State Duma or lower house of parliament to approve the pact.

Next page: Deutsche Welle's John Hay speaks to Joke-Waller Hunter, executive secretary of the UNFCCC about how Russia could profit from adopting the Kyoto Protocol and the impact of global warming.

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