Annan Calls On Russia To Sign Kyoto Protocol

MILAN, Italy -- UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Russia on Wednesday to salvage the Kyoto Protocol, calling the plan a first step in a decades-long push to combat global warming.

"I encourage all remaining [developed] countries that have not joined in this crucial global endeavor to expedite the ratification process," Annan said in a written statement to a 180-nation conference attended by environment ministers.

He cited growing concern about rising sea levels, crop failures and heat waves linked to emissions of greenhouse gases.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol cannot enter into force without backing from Russia, after President George W. Bush pulled the United States, the world's biggest polluter, out in 2001. Bush faced sniping from Kyoto supporters in Milan for his withdrawal.

To take effect, Kyoto must be accepted by nations responsible for 55 percent of emissions of carbon dioxide in rich states. It has reached 44 percent and needs Russia's 17 percent after the United States withdrew its 36 percent share.

European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom predicted Russia would ratify in the end and said Moscow was holding out for the best deal, including investments to improve energy efficiency in creaking Soviet-era factories.

"They have everything to gain, they know that," she said. "They are trying to get the most out of it. They hold the key to the entry into force of the protocol, of course they want to make full use of it."

Russia has pulled back from previous promises to ratify and sent contradictory signals about its intentions, expressing concern that Kyoto might restrain economic growth.

Annan said Kyoto was only a first step toward slowing global warming by cutting emissions of gases like carbon dioxide from cars and factories. He said combating climate change "will require a sustained effort for decades to come,"

Delegates said Russia was unlikely to make any policy announcements at the talks. The Russian delegation was led by Alexander Bedritsky, head of a Russian environmental monitoring group, rather than by a government minister.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky said Washington reckoned investments in new technologies were the best way to curb emissions. Bush says Kyoto is too expensive and wrongly excludes developing nations.

Dobriansky said U.S. federal spending on climate change was set to be $4.3 billion in 2004, the highest in the world. But Wallstrom defended Kyoto, saying it "offers the only international legal framework to tackle climate change."

Saying he was too busy with EU affairs to come to Milan, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi sent a written message to the conference expressing hopes for ratification by Russia, the United States and Australia.