Russia Voices Skepticism Over Kyoto Protocol

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:14 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russia has long pledged support for the Kyoto Protocol but is now edging toward a more cautious approach to the treaty designed to reduce the emission of "greenhouse gases" - a stance that could yet prevent the treaty's entry into force.

Alexander Bedritsky, head of Russia's meteorological agency, Rosgidromet, said Tuesday that implementation of the Kyoto Protocol was unlikely to bring down the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

Experts have yet to reach consensus on whether the emissions cause global warming, Bedritsky told an international conference here.

The skeptical approach to the climate change issue mirrors that of the Bush administration, which rejected the Kyoto Protocol two years ago.

Signed in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, the treaty calls on the U.S., Russia and three dozen other industrialized countries to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide and methane by specified amounts.

Russia's ratification is essential if the protocol is to come into force, and climate change activists have predicted that could happen by the end of 2003.

The treaty comes into effect when nations accounting for 55 percent of the total of emission levels measured in 1990 ratify it.

When the U.S. withdrew in 2001, supporters were devastated because, according to Kyoto calculations, the U.S. alone emits 36.1 percent of the total 1990-level emissions.

Nonetheless, the target was still attainable because the European Union, other European states and Japan together account for just over 40 percent. Switzerland's ratification last July pushed the total to 44.39 percent.

Russia's 17.4 percent would push the total beyond the 55 percent target figure - if Moscow does, in fact, ratify the treaty.

Bedritsky's comments Tuesday contradict his position from last January, when he said Russia planned to ratify the protocol soon.

Last fall, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa that ratification would take place "in the very near future."

But last July, a change of tone came from President Vladimir Putin's chief economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, who said Russia should carefully weigh the pros and cons before ratifying Kyoto.

"There have been no serious studies confirming that global warming is taking place," Illarionov said, adding: "I'm not sure that now, Russia can afford spending that the U.S. - the richest country on earth - cannot afford."

Kyoto proponents - including Russia in the past - have accused Washington of undermining the international drive against global warming.

The U.S. argues that the protocol's requirements are too expensive to implement and would adversely affect the country's economy.

It has also pointed to the fact that Kyoto does not require countries like China and India to meet emission reduction quotas because they are considered developing rather than industrialized countries. Yet U.N. figures show both are major CO2 polluters. China is ranked second in the world - after the U.S. - and India is sixth.

Russian's deputy economic development and trade minister, Mukhamed
Tsikanov, said Tuesday that ratifying Kyoto would not benefit Russia economically, even though it may bring political benefits.

Nonetheless, Tsikanov said, Russia should ratify the protocol.

Initially, Russia had expected to benefit financially from the treaty.

Kyoto provides for setting up a market in which countries could sell unused pollution "quotas" to defaulting nations that pollute more.

The trade in emission quotas is designed to reward clean industries and to serve
as an incentive for dirty ones to invest in more environment-friendly technologies.

Russia's Kyoto quota is not expected to be fully utilized because the country's manufacturing sector is currently producing about half as much as it did in the late 1980s. As a result, many polluting industrial outlets have shut down, leading to a 30 percent drop in toxic waste emissions since 1990.

Russia had hoped to gain between $500 million and $4 billion a year by selling emission quotas to other countries, according to the energy ministry.

But the American withdrawal from Kyoto came as a blow to the plans because the U.S. was expected to be a major buyer on the quota market.

Putin is hosting the third International Conference on Climate Changes in Moscow September 29-October 3.

The conference is expected to attract 1,200 participants from around the world. Scientists from 52 countries have submitted more than 500 reports for the conference.

( Pacific Rim Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)

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