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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow Threatens U-Turn On Kyoto

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Russia has warned that it might decide against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, a move that would effectively kill off the pact against global warming that has already been rejected by the United States.

"There is a risk. There is a risk, without a doubt," Deputy Minister Mukhamed Tsikanov of the Economic Development and Trade Ministry said Friday in an interview at the Earth Summit.

"Because ... we don't have the economic stimulus, the economic interest in the Kyoto Protocol," he said, although he added that, for the moment, the plan in Moscow was still to ratify.

Moscow believes billions of dollars it had expected to earn by selling "rights to pollute" under the treaty's quota-trading mechanism are now in doubt since the United States, the biggest potential buyer, has pulled out of the Kyoto process.

West European countries, the strongest backers of the deal, have expressed confidence that Moscow will ratify after a certain amount of bargaining. A complex vote-weighting system means the pact cannot come into force without Russia's agreement.

Countries accounting for 55 percent of the developed world's carbon dioxide emissions in 1990 must sign up for the treaty to come to life. So far, with the EU, Japan and others but without the United States, the total is 37.1 percent. Ratification by Russia would add 17.4 percent, virtually assuring its success.

Moscow did sign up to a plan for implementing the 1997 treaty at fraught negotiations in Bonn a year ago, following U.S. President George W. Bush's rejection of the protocol. President Vladimir Putin and his government have indicated that they want parliament to ratify it after the summer recess.

Tsikanov said his ministry would report to the government in September after a long process of gathering data from various departments on the likely impacts of ratification.

So far, he believed, there was no reason not to ratify.

But the absence of the United States from the process is a serious drawback, he added. "That means that it turns out that Russia is losing a potential market for its trading quota. The economic stimulus to the Kyoto Protocol is disappearing.

"This is a key point that could play a negative role overall in the whole Kyoto Protocol process," he said. "We had expected billions."

The accord commits industrialized nations like Russia to cutting their emissions of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, which are blamed for global warming and so, in turn, for more extreme weather patterns worldwide.

Because much of its Communist-era industry collapsed, Russia has already more than met its Kyoto target for emissions -- reductions are measured from a base of levels in 1990.

Russia also benefits from being able to offset the carbon dioxide-absorbing capacities of its vast forests against its gas emissions, adding to its virtuous status under the Kyoto rules.

Under a mechanism for trading pollution quotas between states that more than meet their obligations and those that fail, Moscow has stood to profit hugely from the pact.

But without U.S. participation -- the United States is the world's biggest polluter -- Russia's gains may be reduced.

Bush questions the science behind global warming fears and says Kyoto's targets put an unfair burden on the U.S. economy.

Stressing Russia's disappointment with the way the Kyoto process was turning out, Tsikanov said: "When we talk about economic relations, sign a document in which these economic mechanisms are set out, then we go ahead on these conditions.

"But when ... we're told 'Sorry it's not going to work out like that,' then we are going beyond the framework of what was signed."

He expressed irritation with the response Moscow was getting to its concerns: "We're ready to cooperate in every sense, but, if you please, they just shrug their shoulders." Whether or not it ratifies Kyoto, Russia, the world's biggest country by area, is doing its bit for the planet, Tsikanov said, and would dearly like the increased income from quota trading to help it look after its environment.

"From an economic point of view, we are undertaking colossal expenditure in order to maintain the ecological balance of the biosphere," he said, noting that spending on things like fighting forest fires and protecting wildlife placed a heavy strain on Moscow's limited budgetary resources.

"Our conscience before the international community is absolutely clear."

Ministers at the Earth Summit reached agreement Saturday on the wording of a declaration to support the Kyoto Protocol without embarrassing the United States.

In a small but significant breakthrough at talks that had shown little movement for several days, ministers agreed to a compromise text. It says: "States that have ratified strongly urge those that have not done so to ratify Kyoto in a timely manner," according to a copy seen by Reuters.

Effectively, this avoids the contradictory situation of having anti-Kyoto countries like the United States be part of a motion to back the treaty, while at least retaining a reference to the controversial pact.

The text also includes a reference to richer countries acting first to fight climate change, a principle that was agreed to 10 years ago at the Rio Earth Summit but that environmentalists said was under threat in Johannesburg.

The text on Kyoto will be part of a broad action on environment and development that heads of state and government and expected to sign up to when they arrive at the summit this week.

Ministers are rushing to finalize the action plan on achieving "sustainable development" -- creating wealth and reducing poverty without destroying the environment -- before their leaders start arriving on Monday.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz arrived at the Earth Summit on Sunday as debate raged among world leaders about the U.S. campaign to overthrow President Saddam Hussein.

Some officials say the gathering of leaders of more than 100 nations will also be used by world heavyweights to raise the issue of U.S. plans on Iraq in bilateral talks at the convention center in the wealthy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton.

Aziz was ushered quickly through the lobby of the convention center on Sunday and into an elevator, surrounded by heavy security.

German government sources have said Chancellor Gerhard Schr?der for one is likely to raise Iraq in bilateral discussions with other leaders on the sidelines of the summit during his eight-hour stay on Monday.

Schr?der has spoken out forcefully in opposition to U.S. military action against Iraq. France also opposes military action, at least for now, given the lack of a real Middle East peace process.

The United States is ignoring calls for a new UN Security Council resolution to approve any American military action and has demanded Iraq disarm immediately.