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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Key Player in Race to Ratify Kyoto

Russia has surfaced as the pivotal player in ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, but experts and policy-makers agree that more progress has to be made before it can go to a State Duma vote.

"Is this for real? Yes," said Garegin Aslanian, vice president with the Moscow-based Center for Energy Policy. "All the prerequisites are in place for ratification to happen."

Government officials and leading experts from Russian and Europe on Tuesday concluded a two-day workshop on the protocol. This meeting — a fiery and riotous exchange of ideas, complaints and solutions — is a run-up to the June 18 Duma hearings on the protocol followed by a summit of participating countries in Bonn, Germany, on July 16.

The Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto, Japan, and thus became known as the Kyoto Protocol, whose mission is to provide concrete mechanisms — including quotas and market instruments — for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from their 1990 levels. Greenhouse gases have been tied to global warming.

The protocol comes into effect when nations that account for 55 percent of the 1990 emissions levels ratify the treaty. Of the countries that would be bound to reduce their emissions, Romania is the only one that has already ratified it.

However, when President George W. Bush in March announced that the United States would not ratify the treaty — calling it bad for business — he threw the European nations into a rage and threatened the treaty's future. The United States is by far the largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions; in 1990, it accounted for 36 percent of the worldwide total.

Together, the European Union, Japan, Poland and other European states — nations most likely to ratify the treaty — account for 39 percent. Russia's share is 17.4 percent and would give just enough votes for the Kyoto Protocol to become a working mechanism.

"If the United States actually decides not to participate in the negotiations, Russia will come more into focus," said Olle Bjork, a representative from Sweden, which now holds the EU presidency.

But America's exit gives Russia less incentive to participate. The treaty envisages a way that would let countries that produce less than their quota of emissions sell credits to those that overproduce. The United States was anticipated to be a big buyer and Russia a big seller. From the Russian side, there was big money to be made, a prospect that disappeared along with the U.S. commitment.

Alexei Mastepanov, an Energy Ministry strategist, admitted that this made the treaty less enticing, but he added that Russia had much to gain from cooperating and exchanging information with the European Union.

"Our two energy strategies can be the foundation for large-scale developments in energy transport, production and ecology," Mastepanov said.

The Russian experts also cited their own difficulties in organizing what exactly the country's stance is going to be. Most European countries put coordinating responsibility in the hands of an environment ministry. Russia's chief negotiator comes from Roshydromet, the weather forecasting service, but differing viewpoints were offered by the Duma, the Economic Development and Trade Ministry and a plethora of other entities at the meeting.

Michael Grubb, an associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, said the workshop created an ongoing dialogue.

"Trust is very important in the process," Grubb said. "And in seeing what Russia is actually doing — such as emission inventory — only solidifies our trust."