Russia's in no hurry to ratify the most important ecological document of our times, it became clear from an international Moscow conference on climate change opened by President Vladimir Putin last week
Ecologists, politicians and economists arrived in Moscow from 52 countries, waiting to hear just one revelation from the president's address: whether Russia was set to back the Kyoto Protocol. The US, responsible for 35 percent of global pollution, has refused to sign the accord and its fate hangs solely on Russia, generating 17 percent of emissions.
It seemed several months ago that Russia would ratify. Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and other top Russian officials said as much. But ecological sentiments in the Russian government have changed. Presidential economics advisor Andrey Illarionov told the conference:
"The text of the Kyoto protocol is discriminating towards Russia. According to the document, industrially-developed countries must reduce pollution of the atmosphere to prevent development of the greenhouse effect. The reduction should make up an average five percent during 2008-2012.
"The protocol has been ratified by 100 countries, but only Australia and the USA have refused to sign it," he said. "The total share of pollution by states that have ratified the protocol makes up only 32 percent of world emissions of greenhouse gases.
"Is the Kyoto protocol efficient at this point? Probably, developed countries that have no restrictions at present will be emitting more gases in the future. This is a strange situation: Russia produces only six percent of greenhouse emissions and it should cut its emissions, whereas commitment-free China's share makes up 13 percent."
Another influential Russian politician, Vyacheslav Nikonov, also has a negative attitude on the protocol. He thinks the document has not been developed from a scientific viewpoint, not specifying how carbon gases affect the climate. Russia did not gain any special profit from ratifying the treaty. It would have to forget quota sales in the real world, whose market had been simply concocted and whose prices are unknown. "The Kyoto Protocol is simply an attempt to sell forthcoming economic growth at an unknown price," he said.
Putin's speech was the key event. The president's language was diplomatic. But ecologists understood Russia would not be rushed. "The Russian government is meticulously examining this question and is studying all of the difficult problems associated with it. The decision will be taken at the end of this work and in conformity with Russia's national interests. If a warming happens in Russia, people will be able to spend less money on fur coats and the corn crop will be increased," Putin told delegates.
Chairman of the international organizing committee, academician Yury Israel, wanted no political motives in the conference, just scientific discussion. Boris Revich, from the Forecasting Institute of the Russian Academy of Science, made one contribution, noting that "as a result of warming, various parasitic intestinal infections, malaria and tick diseases will grow dramatically in Russia. Extreme weather phenomena will increase, the permafrost will thaw, contaminated ground waters will flow into water-supply sources, waterlogged areas will expand. Such things have been happening in Russia recently when the climate started changing."
US Environmental Defense Chief Economist Daniel Dudek told Izvestia newspaper he regretted the position of the incumbent American administration. Pro-Kyoto opposition was increasing in the US Congress. Critics of the treaty had not clarified all economic benefits of the document, scientific forecasts were vague, economic forecasts were complicated regarding American laws restricting acid rain. As a result, sulfur dioxide emissions were down 50 percent. Ecological matters did not need fundamental technological solutions, just a reasonable approach and proper management. Oil giant BP had been running a corporate ecological strategy and quota sales for more than ten years. Money-savings had been enormous and "green" plans implemented nine years sooner than expected.