Putin Is Backing Kyoto Again
By Gwynne Dyer
06 October, 2004 by the
did Russian President Vladimir Putin decide to ratify the Kyoto Protocol
on climate change last week, only six months after his top adviser,
Andrei Illarionov, called it a "death treaty?" One reason
is that the European Union offered Russians visa-free travel within
the 25-country bloc plus EU support for Russia's membership in the World
The other reason
is that Russians aren't stupid.
Only a few months
ago, Russia and the EU looked light-years apart on global warming. Illarionov,
speaking in St. Petersburg in April, outdid even the Bush administration,
warning that the restraints put on carbon dioxide emissions by Kyoto
would stifle the Russian economy like "an international gulag or
to be in a different world from senior EU officials like Sir David King,
the British government's chief scientific adviser, who said in July,
"We are moving from a warm period into the first hot period that
man has ever experienced since he walked on the planet."
While carbon dioxide
concentrations in the atmosphere over the last several million years
have varied from 200 parts per million at the depth of the ice ages
to 270 parts per million during the warming periods between them, he
warned, we have now reached 379 parts per million and that figure
is going up by 3 ppm per year.
If the current trend
continues, King predicted, by the end of this century the Earth will
be entirely ice-free for the first time since 55 million years ago,
when "Antarctica was the best place for mammals to live, and the
rest of the world would not sustain human life."
The positions seemed
utterly irreconcilable and now, suddenly, Russia is going to
ratify Kyoto. The treaty that the Bush administration thought it had
killed is alive again. Why?
The Kyoto Protocol
had to be ratified by countries that together accounted for 55 per cent
of the industrialized world's output of carbon dioxide in 1990. So with
the United States and its Australian sidekick opposed the U.S.
alone accounts for 25 per cent of the industrialized world's emissions
the assent of Russia (17 per cent) was absolutely indispensable.
Once Russia does
ratify, however, the Kyoto rules will be up and running in 90 days.
The Bush administration
was deceiving itself if it thought that Russia was really opposed to
Kyoto; Moscow was simply playing hard to get. Russian scientists understand
the urgent need to slow climate change as well as their counterparts
elsewhere, and all the old high-emission industrial plants that Russia
has closed since 1990 means that it will have less difficulty in meeting
the Kyoto limits than almost any other country. In fact, Russia will
probably find that it is undercutting its annual quota for carbon emissions
by a wide margin.
Traders on the new
London carbon exchange, where the price of carbon dioxide jumped 20
per cent to more than $11 per tonne on the news of Moscow's forthcoming
ratification, estimate that Russia will be able to earn around $10 billion
a year by selling the unused part of its carbon quota to countries that
cannot meet their own quotas.
The only real reason
that Moscow delayed ratification was that the Bush administration had
given Russia what amounted to a veto on the treaty, which it then used
to extort major concessions from the European Union. That game is over,
so what happens now?
The United States
will not rejoin Kyoto in the near future. But in the long run, the treaty
imposes a discipline on energy use on America's industrial rivals that
will make them more efficient and push them into new technologies.
Concerns about economic
competitiveness may drive the United States back to the Kyoto table
even before the tangible evidence of climate change convinces American
public opinion of the need to return.
And what of the
charge that the cuts in emissions demanded by Kyoto don't even begin
to solve the problem? This accusation is usually made by people who
don't actually want limits on carbon emissions at all, and is based
on the (deliberately misleading) assumption that the current Kyoto quotas
are the final ones. They are not, of course.
The most urgent
task after the signing of the treaty in 1992 was to nail down the principle
that countries have a duty to limit greenhouse gas emissions that change
everybody's climate and to stop the steady rise in emissions.
The Kyoto Protocol
of 1997 went beyond mere stabilization and imposed a 5 per cent cut
on industrial countries' emissions in the period to 2010. However, it
exempted developing countries like China and India from quotas until
the next bargaining round, on the grounds that the current problem was
mostly caused by the developed countries.
Talks on the next
round of targets, running out to 2020, will start in 2008. They are
bound to include much deeper cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by the
industrial countries, and this time the developing countries will have
to be included in the limits, too.
estimate that cuts of around 60 per cent are needed globally to avoid
runaway climate change, mass extinctions, and catastrophic sea-level
But at least the
principle that every country has a responsibility for the global climate
has been accepted, and stabilization of industrial country emissions,
apart from the U.S. and Australia, is on the way.
Gwynne Dyer is a
Canadian journalist based in London whose articles are published in
2004 Toronto Star