Russia stalls

A five-day climate conference held in Moscow, Russia, late in September 2003 reinforced doubts about Russia's commitment to the Kyoto Protocol.

The ostensible aim of the Moscow conference was to provide an opportunity for scientists from around the world to discuss research on climate change and its impacts. In the event, the meeting was sidelined by argument about the Kyoto Protocol.

Before it comes into force, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol must be ratified by countries accounting for at least 55 per cent of global carbon emissions. With the United States and Australia refusing to ratify the agreement, Russia must agree if the Protocol is not to wither on the vine.

Though President Vladimir Putin said last year that Russia would ratify the treaty, in recent months he has missed the deadline that would have enabled the first Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol to have taken place in Milan, Italy, this December, alongside the next Conference of the Parties to the climate treaty. At the opening of the Moscow conference, he announced that his government was still studying the pros and cons of Kyoto and a decision on ratification would only be taken when that process was complete.

Echoing the prevarications of the Bush administration in the United States, Yuri Izrael, director of Russia's climate institute, claimed that he believed that “the Kyoto Protocol was developed without sufficient scientific basis.” Andrei Illarionov, economic adviser to the Russian government, warned that the Kyoto Protocol would “doom Russia to poverty, weakness and backwardness.”

Some scientists believe that Russian agriculture is likely to gain through climate warming, though Oleg Sirotenko of the All Russia Institute for Agricultural Meteorology, reckons that the effects will be mixed, with some crops benefiting and others adversely affected. Sergie Shoigu, Russia's Emergencies Minister, warned the Moscow participants that climate change was likely to trigger more floods, fires and other hazards.

Kremlin watchers advocate caution in interpreting recent pronouncements. Financial assistance, with the European Union the source, could provide the key to Russian compliance and it is likely that any final agreement will be preceded by a considerable amount of posturing.

With economic decline since 1990, the baseline year for the Kyoto Protocol, Russian emissions have fallen by 30 per cent. Notwithstanding optimistic plans for economic growth, this leaves much scope for Russia to raise funds by trading unused carbon quotas.

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