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Last Updated: Monday, 29 September, 2003, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
Kyoto treaty in the balance
Richard Black
Richard Black
BBC science correspondent

On the first day of an international climate conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia has not yet decided whether to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the treaty aimed at curbing global warming.

Without Russia's ratification, the protocol cannot enter into force.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Experts will not hazard a guess as to which way Putin will go
Even at the Kyoto Protocol's inception in 1997, there were indications that some nations saw it more as a trade opportunity than an environmental agreement.

Last-minute revisions were made allowing rich countries to keep their own emissions high, instead paying poorer nations to reduce theirs.

The country which would end up paying most, it was thought, was the United States, while Russia would be the main beneficiary.

Up in smoke

In the protocol, greenhouse emissions are measured relative to a 1990 baseline.

Since 1990, emissions in most countries, industrialised and non-industrialised, have risen.

Former-Soviet bloc countries including Russia are the principal exception.

The US - the biggest emitter - has withdrawn, and with it has gone Russia's hope of making money
Their industrial output declined sharply in the years following 1990 and so did their greenhouse gas emissions.

According to some estimates, Russia's emissions will not get back to 1990 levels for at least 20 years.

So rich nations can buy "emissions credits" from Russia without any impact on Russia.

The treaty also allows countries to pay Russia to preserve its extensive forests and to plant new trees, which - though the science on this is uncertain - absorb carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.

Strings

But now the US has withdrawn, and with it has gone Russia's main hope of making money from the treaty.

A year ago President Putin said he would ratify the Kyoto treaty but in recent days Russian officials have said they will not ratify without guarantees of income.

There is undoubtedly political pressure as well from both sides.

Paris pollution
The Kyoto Protocol is the best chance of global pollution reduction
When Canada was wavering on ratification a year ago, the US lobbied hard for it to withdraw, and it is likely the Bush administration has been exerting similar pressure on Russia.

Whereas some politicians from the European Union - the bloc keenest on Kyoto - have said that if Russia wants to be Europe's ally on other issues it must ratify.

Two conditions have to be met for the Protocol to come into force.

First, it has to be ratified by at least 55 countries - which has already happened.

Second, it must be ratified by countries whose combined greenhouse gas production accounts for at least 55% of emissions from industrialised nations.

Since the US is the biggest emitter, its withdrawal two years ago meant that just about every other industrialised nation has to ratify.

Australia has also withdrawn, and Canada ratified late last year after intense and acrimonious debate.

Political maze

Few would have predicted at the time of the Kyoto negotiations nearly seven years ago that governments would still be discussing its implementation.

It was only ever a first step to combating climate change.

It aims to reduce emissions from industrialised nations only by around 5%, whereas the consensus among climate scientists is that in order to avoid the worst consequences of global warming, emissions cuts in the order of 60% across the board are needed.

If the Kyoto treaty dies, it is difficult to see any immediate future for global measures on climate change
One of the big outstanding questions is how to involve developing nations in the negotiations.

Once Kyoto is ratified, discussions on that difficult issue could begin.

But as long as it is stalled, no further progress can be made.

And if the Kyoto treaty dies, it is difficult to see any immediate future for global measures on climate change.




SEE ALSO:
Russia 'undecided' on climate deal
29 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature
Climate change: The big emitters
29 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature
Earth hits '2,000-year warming peak'
01 Sep 03  |  Science/Nature


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