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Following Bush's Lead, Russia to Reject Kyoto Protocol
Published on Tuesday, December 2, 2003 by the New York Times
Putin Aide Rules Out Russian Approval of Kyoto Protocol
by Steven Lee Myers and Andrew C. Revkin

MOSCOW, Dec. 2 A senior Kremlin official said today that Russia would not ratify the international treaty requiring cuts in emissions of gases linked to global warming, delivering what could be the fatal blow to years of diplomatic efforts to address the problem.

Also See:
Greenpeace: Russian Election Politicking over Kyoto Protocol Nothing More than Hot Air

Aleksei V. Yablokov, a former environmental official under President Boris N. Yeltsin and now president of the Center for Ecological Policy in Moscow, said he believed the American decision (to reject the Kyoto treaty) weighed heavily on the Kremlin.

With the Bush administration having previously rejected the treaty, known as the Kyoto Protocol, Russia essentially held a veto over its enactment, since the agreement could only take effect when adopted by enough countries to account for 55 percent of emissions by industrialized countries. More than 100 countries have done so, but without Russia or the United States, that 55 percent threshhold cannot be met.

President Vladimir V. Putin announced Russia's rejection of the treaty during a meeting at the Kremlin with European businessmen, the senior official, Andrei N. Illarionov, said in public remarks and in an interview.

Mr. Putin did not publicly discuss the treaty, giving hope to officials in Europe and at a United Nations climate conference under way in Milan that Russia was still open to adopting it. But Mr. Illarionov asserted in a telephone interview that Russia's decision was unequivocal.

"We shall not ratify," he said.

That decision, ending more than a year of speculation about Russia's position, brushed aside impassioned appeals from the United Nations and from individual countries, especially in Europe, that have embraced the protocol as the best way to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases that many scientists have linked to a potentially dangerous rise in global temperatures.

The treaty, completed in the Japanese city of Kyoto in 1997 after two years of intense diplomatic wrangling, called on major industrialized countries to reduce emissions before 2012 by 5.2 percent from 1990 levels. Barring a 11th-hour reversal of position by Russia, the treaty now appears dead, leaving uncertain the future of international cooperation on the question of global warming.

As recently as last year, President Putin indicated Russia's willingness to sign the accord, but since then he and other officials have wavered, raising questions about whether the country stood to benefit from ratification, especially without the participation of the United States and without mandatory limits on developing countries like China.

That exemption to China, as well as to India and other big developing nations, also figured prominently in President Bush's stated rationale for opposing the accord, as did concern over the costs of complying with it.

At a climate conference in Moscow in September, Mr. Putin said Russia remained committed to addressing climate change, but he also shocked many conferees with an impromptu quip suggesting that global warming could benefit a country hardened by winter cold. "We shall save on fur coats and other warm things," he said.

Mr. Illarionov said the treaty's supporters had failed to answer questions about the treaty's scientific rationale, its fairness and the potential harm to Russia's economy, which Mr. Putin has pledged to double over the next decade.

"A number of questions have been raised about the link between carbon dioxide and climate change, which do not appear convincing," Mr. Illarionov said. "And clearly it sets very serious brakes on economic growth which do not look justified."

In a telephone interview from the Milan treaty talks, the climate policy director for the World Wildlife Fund, Jennifer Morgan, said she saw nothing in the statements from Mr. Illarionov as representing government policy. She said Mr. Putin himself, while repeatedly noting this fall that Russia had to take time to weigh the treaty's merits against potential economic costs, had never explicitly rejected it.

As for the statements by Mr. Illarionov, Mr. Putin's adviser, she said: "This is not really a surprise. This has been his line all along."

A statement issued by the wildlife fund further dismissed his remarks as "nothing more than pre-election bluster" tied to parliamentary elections in Russia on Sunday.

The statement quoted the fund's chief representative in Russia, Alexey Kokorin, as minimizing Mr. Illarionov's stature. "Illarionov does not speak for the president or the Russian government," Mr. Kokorin said. "This is just the latest statement in a long line of predictions by Illarionov which have failed to eventuate. He opposed the Russian energy strategy, which was then adopted in May 2003, and he poured cold water on the economic plan for G.D.P. growth, which was also later adopted."

Since the collapse of Soviet-era industry, Russia's emission of gases has fallen by an estimated 30 percent, meaning it could easily have met its required reductions. Under the treaty's complex formulas, it stood to gain financially from selling credits that would allow other countries to exceed the treaty's limits. Some major Russian industries lobbied for the protocol, seeing it as a way to use the credits to modernize aging plants.

Without the United States, however, many officials here concluded that the potential economic gains would not be as lucrative as first thought. And with the Russian economy increasingly reliant on oil and gas production and exports, the officials concluded that the treaty's limits could become a drag on economic growth in the future.

Aleksei V. Yablokov, a former environmental official under President Boris N. Yeltsin and now president of the Center for Ecological Policy in Moscow, said he believed the American decision weighed heavily on the Kremlin. He added that Russian industries also feared having to make a full disclosure of their emissions, suggesting actual levels had been underreported.

"All of this is a political game," he said. "It has nothing to do with the environment. It has nothing to do with economics."

The protocol is an outgrowth of the first international climate treaty, the 1992 Framework Convention on Climate Change, which committed the world's industrialized nations to work voluntarily to avoid "dangerous" human interference with the climate system, but never defined "dangerous."

After signatories in 1995 recognized that emissions were continuing to grow, negotiations began toward a binding addendum, culminating in 1997 with the current protocol. The targets for individual countries ranged widely depending on their contribution to the problem and intensive bargaining aimed at being sure no country was getting too great a competitive advantage.

It has become clear in the last two years that even the countries with the easiest targets are unlikely to achieve them, given the continuing growth in the global economy and inevitably in emissions of the warming gases.

Even as the statements from Russia rocked the treaty talks, the European Commission issued a report warning that the European Union over all, and 13 of its 15 member states, would fail to meet their targets under the Kyoto Protocol unless new measures to curb greenhouse emissions were enacted.

The European Union had generally been perceived as having a relatively easy time of it under the treaty, because of longstanding existing economic trends, like Britain's shift from coal to North Sea natural gas, which produces far fewer greenhouse gases when burned.

Mr. Illarionov said that Russia remained receptive to an international effort to reduce harmful emissions. But he insisted that Russia would not ratify a treaty that did not include the United States, China and other nations that, he said, produced more gases than Russia and had greater financial resources to cope with the economic consequences of reductions.

A new treaty that "would be truly global," he said, "could be a new basis in which we could start discussions."

Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Moscow and Andrew C. Revkin reported from New York.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company


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