The United States has reiterated its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming despite renewed pressure to yield after Russia ended years of hesitation by moving to ratify the treaty.
Bush isn't planning to follow Putin's example
The State Department had no comment on the decision by the Russian cabinet Thursday to submit the document to the Duma for approval, but said Washington remained committed in its own way to battling climate change.
"The United States' position on the Kyoto Protocol has not changed," spokesman Richard Boucher said. "We thought at this point it wasn't the right thing for the United States, but it's up to other nations to independently evaluate whether ratification is in their national interest."
Russia had delayed a decision on the treaty for years as it weighed its own economic policies against the diplomatic benefits of allying itself closer to the United States or to Europe, the protocol's biggest group of supporters.
But on Thursday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov told his cabinet colleagues that approval was vital.
"The fate of the Kyoto protocol depends on Russia. If we ... rejected ratification, we would become the ones to blame (for its failure)," he said, according to Reuters news agency.
Decision hailed internationally
The decision was hailed by the EU, Germany and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, among others.
The Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer (TOMS) shows a hole in ozone layer over the Antarctic
"He welcomes this step, since the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol, made possible by Russia's ratification, will be the essential first step in tackling the planetary challenge posed by climate change," Annan's spokesman said in a statement. "He takes this occasion to remind the entire international community of the need to bring a greater sense of urgency to this crucial issue of human security and well-being."
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder meanwhile said the approval was a sign that Russia had been viewed too negatively on the issue so far. He added that he always believed that the Russian government knew what was important for international climate control.
Russian approval vital
Russia's ratification is vital for transforming Kyoto from a draft 1997 agreement into a working international treaty: The document becomes binding once it's been ratified by 55 percent of the signatories, which must together account for 55 percent of carbon dioxide emissions by developed countries.
With Russia's ratification -- the country generates 17 percent of world emissions -- that condition would be fulfilled. So far, the Kyoto Protocol has been ratified by 122 nations accounting for 44 percent of emissions.
Traffic on highway in Atlanta, Georgia
The protocol requires industrialized signatories to trim output of six "greenhouse" gases by 2008-2012 compared with their 1990 levels. To achieve that, they will have to cut the burning of oil, coal and gas, the carbon-bearing sources that sparked the Industrial Revolution, and remain the foundation for economic life today.
Those changes carry an economic pricetag for consumers, a threat to vested interests and a challenge to lifestyles. Kyoto has run into fierce crossfire from the oil lobby and from conservatives like US President George W. Bush.
US has different plans
The United States, which by itself accounts for a quarter of global carbon pollution, walked away from Kyoto in 2001, saying the pact was too costly and unfair because developing countries are not bound to make specific pollution cuts.
Without the United States on board, the overall reduction in emissions is likely to be only 0.6 percent if Kyoto is honored, well below the initial target of 5.2 percent, according to the US-based environment group World Resources Institute.
Washington has opted instead for its own efforts to curtail global warming, which include domestic initiatives to move to alternative energy sources and international programs to boost research and cooperation on combating climate change.
Boucher (photo) noted that despite its rejection of the Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration was still an active participant on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Kyoto's parent organization.
"President Bush has reaffirmed our commitment to that treaty and we are carrying out climate change initiatives," he told reporters. "We're working on all these efforts with other partners in both the developed and developing world in order to make our own contribution to preventing climate change."
He noted that the Duma had not yet acted on ratification although analysts believe its approval by Russian lawmakers is likely.