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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

World Waits for Decision on Kyoto

The world is waiting for Russia to make up its mind about the Kyoto protocol. Ratification by Moscow is all that is needed now to bring the agreement to combat global warming into effect. Vladimir Putin and his ministers have said for months that they intend to give it the green light. Yet they remain evasive about exactly when.

From the standpoint of rational economic self-interest, their hesitation is hard to understand. For Russia, the agreement is a one-way bet. The country would need to make no cuts in its emission levels and stands to gain as much as $10 billion a year from trading emission permits internationally. The more Moscow delays, the longer it denies itself this potential windfall.

The explanations appear largely political. One may be infighting between warring camps in the Russian government, some of which view the protocol as a threat to their traditional power bases. If so, that is scarcely an advertisement for Putin's ability to impose his will on the bureaucracy.

Russia may also hope that, by playing hard to get, it can gain diplomatic leverage -- particularly over the European Union, the protocol's greatest champion. Moscow certainly has a long shopping list of demands. They include early entry into the World Trade Organization, freedom to renegotiate partnership agreements with EU accession countries and visa-free travel by its citizens to the EU.

Brussels should stand firm against attempts at horse-trading on those issues: Each needs to be dealt with on its merits -- particularly WTO accession. This is not a political favor, nor one that the EU alone can bestow. Unless Russia subscribes fully to detailed WTO rules and obligations, neither it nor the organization will profit much from its admission.

By ratifying the Kyoto protocol without delay, Moscow would earn international kudos. It would restore political momentum to a project that has yet to recover from the U.S. decision to pull out. It would also prevent this year's planned conference on climate change from turning into a sterile stocktaking exercise and enable serious talks to be launched on how to take the Kyoto exercise further.

That will, admittedly, be a formidable endeavor -- and not only because of lack of U.S. participation. Leading developing countries are determined to resist emissions limits that would cramp their economic growth.

Striking a balance between stricter curbs and geographic inclusiveness will not be easy. It may well prove impossible. But until Russia stops sitting on the fence and joins other countries in ratifying the protocol, the international community will not be in a position even to start tackling it.

This comment first appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.