Russian Duma ratifies Kyoto protocol

Mosaic image of the Siberian forest
Mosaic image of the Siberian forest
28 October 2004

Russia's State Duma ratified the Kyoto Protocol on Friday, 22 October 2004 after less than two hours of debate, bringing the international treaty to limit greenhouse gases just a heartbeat away from coming into force worldwide.

A positive vote had been widely forecast after the Cabinet endorsed the treaty on 30 September. European governments and environmental groups, who have lobbied hard for Russia to ratify, hailed the move as a key victory in the global battle against climate change. Without Russia’s support Kyoto would have been scrapped but Russia’s ratification will make the treaty binding.

“We have opened the Russian champagne bottles,” said European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom. “It brings Russia a lot closer to Europe, I would say.” The treaty must still be approved by the Federation Council and signed by President Vladimir Putin, although these steps are seen as formalities.

The Kyoto Protocol calls on industrialised countries to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, thought to be the cause of global warming, to previously agreed target levels by 2012. Russia’s target is equivalent to its 1990 emissions levels. Due to the collapse of Soviet-era heavy industry following the breakup of the Soviet Union, the country now produces about 30% less than that amount.

The Kyoto Protocol was rammed through the Duma on Friday by United Russia, although deputies from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), the Communist Party and Rodina lashed out against it. The motion passed with 334 votes for, 73 against and two abstentions.

The treaty “is not in the interests of the Russian Federation,” said Pyotr Romanov, a Communist deputy. Limiting Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions will limit economic growth and make meeting Putin’s goal of doubling GDP within 10 years impossible, he said, according to Interfax. The same arguments were put forward by Putin’s economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, one of the main opponents of Kyoto.

The SPOT-4 satellite image of the forests in the central part of
SPOT-4 satellite image of the forests in the central part of Chernobyl Exclusion Zone

Kyoto’s supporters argue that the treaty will bring Russia economic rewards since it will allow Russia to sell any unused emission quotas to countries that do not meet their reduction targets. However, Alexei Ostrovsky, a deputy from the LDPR, said that even if Russia has extra quotas, it probably will not be able to turn them into profit. The country could theoretically make €15,000 million to €20,000 million from quota sales, “but no one says they will buy these quotas from us,” he said, according to Interfax.

European leaders, however, insist there will be a market for Russia's extra quotas.

Kyoto supporters have long argued that Russia could earn billions from so-called “joint-implementation projects,” in which a foreign investor pays to reduce emissions in Russia but counts the emissions reductions for his own country or company.

Putin spoke out in favour of the Kyoto Protocol after the European Union backed Russia’s bid to join the World Trade Organisation this spring, prompting widespread speculation that the two issues were unofficially linked.

Environmentalists celebrated the Duma's vote, but many of Kyoto's supporters say its real significance lies in establishing a framework for further international efforts to fight climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol was originally designed to reduce greenhouse emissions by a total of 5.2% below 1990 levels among industrialised countries. But since the United States has backed out of the treaty, many experts say that even if all countries meet their targets, total emissions will be reduced by even less.

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