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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fate of Kyoto Treaty Is Still Up in the Air

President Vladimir Putin's promise to accelerate the process of ratifying the Kyoto Protocol is his clearest statement on the subject so far, and appears to end more than a year of speculation over whether Russia would rescue the international treaty to limit greenhouse gases.

Observers said Russian ratification, which would bring the treaty into force, now seems to be a matter of time and could happen as soon as early 2005.

"We're for the Kyoto process, we support it," Putin said at the EU-Russia summit Friday.

But, he added, "we have concerns about the obligations we would have to take on ourselves.

"I cannot say how things will be 100 percent, because ratification is not an issue for the president but for parliament. But we will accelerate this process."

The Kyoto Protocol aims to cut developed countries' greenhouse gas emissions to 5.2 percent under 1990 levels by 2012. Russian ratification is needed to make the agreement binding.

"For me, this is a major, major step forward, one which says they are going to ratify," said Jonathan Stern, director of gas research at the Oxford Institute for Energy.

But some who have followed the issue closely noted that Putin stopped just short of offering his unequivocal support and that he had carefully fashioned an escape hatch for himself by saying that the real responsibility for ratification lies with the State Duma.

"What was said was very optimistic in reference to ratification," said Mikhail Rogankov, head of the Carbon Energy Fund, a nonprofit organization set up to help Russian energy suppliers reap possible economic benefits created under Kyoto. "At least we're moving toward ratification and not in the opposite direction."

But Rogankov stressed that it remains far from clear whether the treaty will be ratified. "I can reiterate that there is strong opposition. I don't know who will win in the end," he said. "A small remark or a small factor may turn [Putin's] decision."

Putin's comments created little stir in Europe's fledgling emissions trading markets. The Kyoto Protocol would allow countries and investors to buy and sell greenhouse emissions allowances, and advance deals are already taking place in preparation for an internal EU carbon-trading scheme that will be established in January 2005. Prices for carbon allowances held relatively steady at about 8 euros ($9.60) per ton Friday.

"People in the emissions market will believe [Russian ratification] when they see it, as they have heard it so many times before," said Tim Atkinson, emissions broker at Natsource in London, Reuters reported. "But it is an encouraging sign."

Stern said emissions markets should not be expected to react too strongly. "For me, the emissions markets move up when events actually occur," he said. "If Kyoto's going to be ratified at the beginning of next year, there's no reason for markets to move up now."

The potential costs of Kyoto and the fact that developing nations are not required to reduce emissions have made the treaty controversial.

"CO2 is a global problem, and a unilateral decision to go ahead with Kyoto can be an expensive exercise for industries in countries that will ratify the agreement," said Andrea Clavarino, chairman of Assocarboni, a Rome-based association of European coal producers who is due to visit Moscow on Monday.

"We run the risk that polluting industries will move to countries that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol," he said by telephone from Brussels.

Russian resistance to the Kyoto Protocol has been led by presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, who has argued that the treaty threatens to strangle economic growth. Illarionov has insisted that Russia will never ratify the treaty in its current form, and said he spoke for Putin.

Analysts said Friday that Illarionov's public stance might have been aimed at improving Russia's bargaining position with the EU in its bid to join the World Trade Organization. On Friday, European negotiators agreed to softer terms in its support for Russia's accession to the WTO.

"Illarionov's a bright person," Stern said. "But a lot of things he was saying were factually wrong, demonstrably wrong and not just a matter of opinion. My reading of this was that his task was to create the negotiating position for the president and for the team negotiating [WTO accession]."

Staff Writers Alex Fak and Caroline McGregor contributed to this report.