Russian Officials Still Divided over Kyoto Protocol

By Sergei Blagov | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Moscow ( - Russia's government appears to be as divided as ever over whether the country should support the Kyoto Protocol, with one economic advisor to the president comparing the environmental pact to fascism.

Russia's decision -- whenever it comes -- will be key to the fate of the treaty, which aims to reduce global emissions of gases environmental groups and many scientists believe are responsible for climate change.

Because the United States has rejected Kyoto, without Russian support the pact will not reach a required threshold for adoption: States accounting for 55 percent of the total global emissions (measured at 1990 levels) have to ratify the agreement for it to take effect, and the U.S. withdrawal has made reaching that target impossible unless Russia opts in.

Weighing up for Kyoto is the Russian economy minister, German Gref.

The ministry of industry and energy has prepared a report arguing that the protocol poses no threat to the country's economy, but the minister in charge, Viktor Khristenko, has said he doubts Kyoto will bring any benefits to Russia.

Also skeptical about Kyoto is Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who said the issue would be discussed during a summit between Russia and the European Union in November.

The EU is Kyoto's biggest supporter, and Russia is likely to come under further pressure at the summit to commit to the treaty.

Fradkov pledged that Russia would not use the Kyoto issue as a bargaining tool in relations with the EU.

Following an earlier summit with the EU last May, Russian authorities had said that Moscow would ratify Kyoto in exchange for the EU backing for Russia's WTO bid.

Another top official opposed to Kyoto is Andrei Illarionov, an economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin.

Illarionov told a Moscow investment conference Monday that Russia's plans to double its GDP over the next decade could prove impossible if the country implemented Kyoto.

"The Kyoto Protocol is based on the most insolent intervention in economic growth in particular, and the development of human civilization in general, and it can be compared to fascism," he said.

Under the 1997 protocol signed in Kyoto, Japan, developed nations agreed to reduce their "greenhouse gas" emissions to 1990 levels, by 2008-2012.

The pact allows countries that are heavier polluters to buy "credits" from others for hard cash. The trade was designed to reward clean industries and to serve as an incentive for dirty industries to invest in environment-friendly technologies.

Russia had hoped to benefit by selling "carbon credits" to the U.S., but Washington in 2001 withdrew from Kyoto, arguing that it would harm American workers and the economy.

President Bush also argued that the agreement did not place emission-reduction demands on developing countries, even though some, notably China and India, were among the world's heaviest polluters.

The U.S. withdrawal from the treaty came as a blow to the Russian emission quota trade plans.

Last April, the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, rejected the protocol, saying ratifying it would now be pointless since there would no longer be a U.S. market for pollution quotas.

Although parliament must formally approve the decision, a final decision on the protocol seems to rest with Putin, who last May indicated that he favored ratification.

But with sharp disagreements among top Russian officials, the fate of the environmental treaty remains far from certain.

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