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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kyoto Delay Hurts Russia Most of All

The World Climate Change Conference opened on Monday in Moscow, providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with a perfect opportunity to announce Russia's ratification of the Kyoto agreement. He did not take it, continuing the studied obfuscation that has characterized Russia's approach. The international response should be unyielding.

The Kyoto agreement, designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with climate change, will come into effect only if ratified by countries responsible for 55 percent of those emissions. With the United States and Australia having refused ratification, Russia's participation is now required to meet this threshold.

Russia has abused this position. At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov told delegates that ratification would take place "in the very nearest future." On Monday, over a year later, Putin was still stalling in his speech to the conference.

The Kyoto agreement is a gift to Russia. Because of the fall in Russian industrial production since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian emissions have fallen relative to the Kyoto base year of 1990. That means Moscow needs to make no cuts in its emission levels, and stands to gain up to $10 billion a year from selling spare emission permits internationally. Delay is hard to understand but the most likely explanation is simple brinkmanship. The Russians believe the treaty is worth more to others than to Russia.

So far the response from other governments to Putin's speech has been firm. That is the right approach. Both Canada and the European Union have affirmed that they will meet their treaty obligations whether or not the treaty becomes binding. But the real significance of the treaty is that it provides a framework for building institutions necessary to make progress on climate change, including an international permit trading system and a mechanism for rich countries to gain credit by investing in clean technology in poorer countries.

Such institutions are growing in strength, and investments in efficient new power plants that could have gone to Russia have already been installed in countries such as Romania. Putin's lukewarm speech was just encouraging enough about eventual ratification that such progress will continue. Further delay hurts Russia most and the EU, the most powerful advocate of the treaty, must be willing to call its bluff.

But if Russia withdraws, the fragile institutions for emissions trading and cross-border investments may be severely damaged. The EU needs to take the lead in reiterating the benefits for Russia, while emphasizing that further sweeteners will not be forthcoming. Putin is a pragmatic man and, the sooner it is clear there is nothing to be gained by holding out, the sooner Russia will ratify the treaty.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.