Kyoto Ratification Hope Slim on Conference Eve

There were scant signs Russia would save the Kyoto Protocol on curbing global warming as it prepared to host a climate conference in Moscow from Monday.

Russia now holds a veto over the protocol, but has delayed approving the 1997 pact that many see as a step toward curbing gases from fossil fuels blamed for rising temperatures that may already be triggering more heat-waves, tornadoes and droughts.

"The whole Kyoto Protocol stands and falls with Russia," said Boerge Brende, the head of a UN committee following up environmental pledges made at an Earth Summit in Johannesburg last year.

President Vladimir Putin is due to attend the Monday opening of the World Climate Change Conference, which will gather climate experts from around the globe and runs until Friday.

But a Kremlin source said Friday that Russia first needed clear guarantees about how it will benefit from the pact and that Putin was unlikely to talk about Kyoto, which seeks to rein in gases like carbon dioxide from factories and cars.

"It's anybody's guess what Moscow will decide at the conference," said Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the UN panel on climate change. Russia has often said it plans to ratify Kyoto but has attached strings, seeking cash guarantees.

Moscow has a veto because Kyoto cannot enter into force until countries representing 55 percent of emissions have ratified, up from the 44 percent so far. Russia accounts for 17 percent while the U.S. share was 36 percent.

But it will only be a pinprick in curbing projected temperature rises of between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by 2100 caused by global warming.

Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said a Russian ratification would let the world move on to discuss whether far more drastic measures were needed to rein in global warming.

Russia will have no problem meeting Kyoto targets because emissions have shrunk since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But its hopes of selling spare emissions quotas abroad in a market once estimated at up to $8 billion a year were dashed by a U.S. pullout from Kyoto in 2001.

Washington said Kyoto was too costly and wrongly excluded developing nations.

Economists say Russia is also worried oil and gas prices might fall if Kyoto forces Western consumers to cut back on burning fossil fuels.

Russia is the world's No. 2 oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and is a major gas exporter.