Kyoto Moves Within Reach As Russia Gives Protocol The Nod

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:12 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russia plans to ratify the Kyoto Protocol soon, bringing the landmark "global warming" treaty significantly closer to reality.

The announcement, made by Russian meteorological agency head Alexander Bedritsky, came after his talks with U.S. climate change negotiator Harlan Watson in Moscow.

Russia's foreign ministry subsequently hailed "renewed dialogue" with the U.S. on the issues of climate change and environment protection.

President Vladimir Putin said last September that Russia was "inclined" to approve the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and announced a plan to convene an international conference on climate change in Moscow next fall.

The agreement reached in Kyoto, Japan, aims to counteract climate change by reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, blamed by many scientists for "global warming."

It requires specified industrialized countries to cut their emissions to 1990 levels, by an average of 5.2 percent, between 2008 and 2012.

Russia's decision is noteworthy because the protocol comes into effect when nations that account for 55 percent of the 1990 emissions levels have ratified it.

The European Union (24.4 percent), Eastern European states (7.4) and Japan (9.5) already account for a combined total of more than 40 percent.

According to the Kyoto calculations, Russia accounts for 17.4 percent. When Russia comes on board, it therefore pushes the total beyond the required 55 percent threshold.

Even without the U.S., which accounts for roughly one-quarter of the worldwide total, Kyoto looks certain to come into effect.

President Bush in March 2001 announced that the U.S. would not ratify the agreement, arguing it was "fatally flawed" and would hurt the American economy and U.S. workers.

Unlike most developed countries, Russia theoretically stands to benefit financially from the Kyoto arrangement.

This is because the Kyoto signatories tentatively agreed to set up a market where less-developed countries could sell unused pollution "quotas" to other countries that pollute more than agreed.

The idea was to reward clean industries and provide an incentive for dirty industries to invest in more environment-friendly technologies.

Although a developed country, Russia's industrial output has plunged in the wake of market reforms, and the country is now producing about half as much as it was in the late 1980s.

Emissions are consequently down by some 30 percent since 1990, and Russia is therefore not expected to use fully its quota under the Kyoto deal.

When Kyoto comes into effect, Russia could earn between $500 million and $4 billion a year by selling emission quotas to other countries, according to Russian official estimates.

However, the U.S. was expected to be a major quota buyer, and its withdrawal from Kyoto came as a blow to these Russian hopes.

Although Russia has emerged as a player in the international drive to ratify Kyoto, it remains to be seen whether Moscow has much to gain from the process and, specifically, from the trade in emission quotas.

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