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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

It's About Cleaner Air, Not Money

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When you look out the window these days, much less walk down the street with your eyes and throat stinging, it's hard to appreciate Russia's decision to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

This may seem like reverse logic since the protocol would restrict the release of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases that even on a good day in Moscow make it unpleasant to take a deep breath.

But for Russia, the Kyoto Protocol has not been about cleaner air. It has been about money.

When Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said Tuesday that Russia would ratify the treaty, he was saying so in the context of reservations expressed a few days earlier by one of his deputy economic development and trade ministers, Mukhamed Tsikanov.

Tsikanov said Russia might decide against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. He argued that without the United States as a party, "we don't have the economic stimulus, the economic interest."

Russia, and again it is hard to digest this when you live here, has already more than met its Kyoto target for emissions. This is because reductions are measured using 1990 as the base level, and since 1990 much of the Soviet-era heavy industry has collapsed.

Russia also effectively gets to write off its emissions by claiming the carbon-dioxide absorbing capacities of its vast forests.

For Russia, which looks like an environmental poster child under the Kyoto rules, the protocol has been seen as a chance to earn billions of dollars by selling its "rights to pollute" to countries such as the United States that are unable to meet their targets.

So when the United States opted out of the Kyoto process, Russia was left without its biggest potential buyer. And Tsikanov's hesitancy seemed an awful lot like a ploy to make sure Russia got something in return for ratifying Kyoto.

The Kyoto Protocol, though, is not about making money. It is about addressing the global warming that many experts think is causing droughts like the one in the Moscow region that has allowed fires to burn out of control and floods like those that inundated southern Russia last month.

The protocol is about cutting emissions and making the air we breathe cleaner. Russia has an obligation to its own citizens to work toward this goal by cleaning up industry and decreasing automobile pollution.

The situation we're left with is a United States that shamefully refuses to ratify the Kyoto Protocol but has a strict Clean Air Act, and a Russia that honorably ratifies the treaty but allows its factories to pump toxic pollutants into the air and its cars and trucks to spit out sickening exhaust fumes.