Published on Friday, October 1, 2004 by OneWorld.net
Green Groups Praise Russian Decision to Ratify Kyoto
by Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON - Major international environmental groups have hailed the decision by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to endorse ratification of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol as a historic breakthrough in curbing global warming.
Warning that the treaty still must be implemented, they also called on the holdouts -- chiefly the United States and Australia -- to follow suit as soon as possible.
"As the Earth is battered by increasing storms, floods and droughts, President Putin has brought us to a pivotal point in human history today," declared the Climate Campaign director of Greenpeace.
"This is a decision that has been waiting for two and a half years," added Jennifer Morgan, director of the Climate Change Program of the World Wildlife Fund in Geneva. "Once the Russian Duma (ratifies it), the UN will finally have a binding multilateral agreement to combat climate change -- a significant step towards protecting the millions of species and people at risk from its impact."
"While we are happy that the Kyoto Protocol looks set to become international law, the industrialized countries that are party to it now need to start implementing it," she added.
The Kremlin's announcement Thursday that it is referring the Protocol to the Russian parliament, where the government enjoys a strong majority, makes it likely that ratification will take place by mid-November.
Under its terms, the treaty, which was signed but never ratified by the United States, would take legal effect 90 days later.
The Protocol requires the major industrialized nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to an average of about seven percent below their 1990 levels by 2012, a target that, according to current trends, only a handful of state-parties will be able to reach.
It will also set the stage for a second round of negotiations in which the world's developing countries, including fast-industrializing giants like China and India, will also have to agree to either stabilize or reduce their emissions as part of the global fight against climate change.
Although former President Bill Clinton signed the Protocol, he never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification. In early 2001, President George W. Bush explicitly rejected the treaty on the grounds that compliance with its targets would severely damage the U.S. economy. The world's biggest emitter of greenhouse gases by far, the U.S. accounts for more than 25 percent of global emissions.
In order to take effect, the Protocol required that it must be ratified by industrialized countries which together accounted for at least 55 percent of global greenhouse emissions in 1990. As of Thursday's announcement, countries accounting only for 44 percent of global emissions had ratified the treaty, including all the members of the European Union (EU), several Central European states, Canada, and Japan.
With a 17.5 percent share of 1990 global emissions, Russia's ratification will bring the total to more than 61 percent.
"It's not over until the fat lady sings, but it certainly seems she is clearing her throat in anticipation," said Peter Goldmark, Jr., director the Climate and Air program of Environmental Defense (ED). "If Russia does ratify, it will be the opening bell for a new and fateful set of negotiations, with Russia and Europe facing China and the U.S. in a critical dialogue over how to cut greenhouse gas pollution but still allow the increases in energy generation needed for economic growth."
Analysts said Russia's ratification will pose a serious challenge to the U.S., particularly if Bush is reelected in November. In the past, the president has voiced skepticism that greenhouse emissions are indeed contributing to warming, and he has opposed any effort to impose mandatory ceilings or cuts on emissions for industry or automobiles, such as those proposed by the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act, named for Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman.
Activists and scientists, however, say that the evidence that global warming is caused by greenhouse emissions and poses serious threats to both the environment and human health and welfare is growing. Two weeks ago, Bush's closest European ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, warned that climate change could become "irreversible in its destructive power," if not in his lifetime, then almost certainly in his children's.
Even the mainstream U.S. media have begun commenting on the possible relationship between warming and the four hurricanes that have ravaged the Caribbean and Florida just the past two months. Climate models developed by scientists over the past decade have predicted that as carbon gases accumulate in the atmosphere, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are likely to increase.
"George Bush's government is out in the cold over Kyoto, and it's that old Cold War enemy, Russia, that's putting it there," according to a statement issued by Greenpeace in Moscow. "While Bush hangs out in hurricane-ravaged Florida, the U.S. government continues to criticize the Kyoto Treaty."
"(Russian ratification) should turn up the heat on President Bush and other world leaders who have refused to join the only international treaty that could help avoid a global catastrophe," said Catherine Pearce, climate campaign coordinator of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI). "Time is running out. We need international action now to reduce the gas emissions responsible for global warming."
"Russia is on track to ratify Kyoto, and people who were betting against the Protocol should change their views now," said WWF's Morgan. "As the impacts of global warming rise, the need for ratification has grown increasingly more urgent."
The director of the UN's Environment Program, Klaus Topfer, also appealed for the U.S. to reassess its position.
"Russia's green light will allow the climate train to leave the station so we can really begin addressing the biggest threat to the planet and its people," he said. "I hope other nations, some of whom like Russia have maybe been in the past reluctant to ratify, will now join us in this truly global endeavor."
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