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Last Updated: Friday, 12 December, 2003, 14:41 GMT
Russia holds climate key

By Tim Hirsch
BBC environment correspondent, at the UN climate change conference in Milan

The Sun came out at the end of this troubled two-week conference, lifting spirits after several days of grey Milanese gloom.

But whether the cloud has lifted from the Kyoto climate change agreement is another matter.

Supporters of the six-year-old deal on cutting the emissions linked to global warming remain determinedly upbeat, insisting that the process is still alive despite continuing doubts about whether Russia will ratify it.

Without the Russians on board, the protocol does not have enough participants to trigger the legal framework giving effect to the targets agreed at Kyoto.

Pure gueswork

The signals coming out of the Moscow government remained ambiguous and contradictory right to the end.

In his speech to the conference, the head of the Russian delegation, Alexander Bedritsky, appeared to throw more obstacles in the path of ratification.

All we need is for Russia to put the key in the door
Alexey Kokorin, WWF-Russia
He claimed the rules governing foreign investments in clean technology were too complex.

"This and a number of other obligations have significantly changed the conditions under which we could possibly participate in the Kyoto Protocol in its present form," Mr Bedritsky warned.

But within hours of this speech, the Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was quoted during a visit to Japan as saying that his government was about to realise an "action plan for ratification".

The rest of the world has virtually given up trying to interpret Moscow's intentions, and anyone who claims to know what the outcome will be is almost certainly guilty of self-delusion or mendacity.

Past promises

What is certain is that any attempt by Russia to re-open negotations on the bewilderingly complex rules governing the Kyoto agreement will be met with derision by virtually all governments.

It has taken six agonising years to get them agreed, and if the compromises involved started to unravel, talks on a new deal would probably drag on until long after the Kyoto targets are supposed to kick in by 2008.

Image: University College London

At the end of the fortnight, the British Environment Secretary Margaret Beckett said: "The mood of the conference was positive and there was confidence from the vast majority of the countries represented, that Kyoto was the first essential step in tackling climate change.

"Those of us here from the EU and other developed signatory countries reaffirmed our commitment to fulfil the promises we have made to the countries and people who stand at greater risk of enormous harm and hardship due to climate change."

Environmental groups, often ready to voice despairing criticism of governments at these conferences, echoed Mrs Beckett's sentiments.

All set

The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) said the Kyoto process had continued its forward motion in Milan, and despite the efforts of the US President George Bush, multi-lateralism was clearly alive and well.

Alexey Kokorin, head of WWF-Russia's Climate Change Programme, put it like this: "The Kyoto Protocol is built on solid foundations.

"The house is now ready for 120 countries to move in. All we need is for Russia to put the key in the door."

But the rest of the world will have to hang around on the doorstep for many more months at least - and the risk remains that the edifice of global action on climate change will never be unlocked.

2003 climate havoc 'cost $60bn'
11 Dec 03  |  Americas
Life remains in Kyoto treaty
10 Dec 03  |  Europe
Russia's climate tussle spins on
04 Dec 03  |  Science/Nature


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