MOSCOW, Sept. 30 -- After years of debate among political and economic leaders here, the Russian cabinet endorsed the 1997 Kyoto accord on global climate change Thursday. The move clears the way for likely ratification by the pro-Kremlin parliament and the long delayed international implementation of the United Nations pact.
As one of the largest producers of the so-called greenhouse gases that the treaty seeks to limit, Russia has essentially controlled adoption of the treaty worldwide since the United States rejected it three years ago on grounds it did little to protect the environment and would slow economic growth.
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens during the State Council Presidium on agricultural issues on Thursday. Putin's Cabinet on Thursday approved the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol which clears the way for parliament to vote on the pact, which needs to be ratified by Russia to take effect.
(ITAR-TASS via AP)
Some advisers to President Vladimir Putin have made similar arguments against it. But Russia has come under strong pressure from the European Union to ratify the protocol and at a meeting with European leaders in May, Putin signaled that he would support it.
"This is a very welcome event," said Reijo Kemppinen, a spokesman for the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, at a Brussels news conference. "This will increase awareness of the fact that the Kyoto protocol is extremely useful and the more countries that join, the more influence it will have. We hope the U.S. will reconsider."
In exchange for Russia's support of Kyoto, the European Union is likely to endorse Russia's membership in the World Trade Organization, a key goal of the Putin government. Moreover, Russian ratification will burnish the country's international standing, particularly in Europe, at a time when Putin has been under criticism for his centralization of power.
"I think the image of the country will become much better, said Victor Danilov-Danilyan, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a supporter of the treaty. "Russia had the key to the Kyoto Protocol and when you have the key and you don't let anyone in, it is very impolite."
Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Zhukov told the Russian news service ITAR-TASS that Russian ministries will prepare legislation for the treaty's ratification during the next three months.
Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, who is in the Netherlands, was quoted by the Russian news agency Interfax as saying that ratification is not certain. "The discussion on the subject is open and debate is likely to be difficult," he said.
The Duma, as the lower house of parliament is called, is dominated by pro-Kremlin parties and political analysts said that if Putin is genuinely committed to the treaty's passage it will sail through. "The Duma does not say no," said Danilov-Danilyan.
The Kyoto Protocol is designed to limit the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases that many scientists believe are contributing to global warming. It comes into effect when at least 55 countries accounting for 55 percent of the world's emissions of the gases have ratified it.
To date, 122 nations have done so, but they only account for 44 percent of emissions. Participation by Russia, which produces 17 percent of world emissions, puts the figure past 55 percent. The United States accounts for 35 percent of world emissions.
"If we . . . rejected ratification, we would become the ones to blame" for its failure, said Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov.
By 2012, participating countries are supposed to reduce emissions by 5.2 percent compared to 1990 emissions, which can be a costly and potentially disruptive process requiring purchase of new technology and shutting old industrial facilities. Critics of the treaty contend that compliance will set back economic growth and that scientists have not definitely shown that the gases actually cause global warming.
Negotiations among treaty members are scheduled to begin next year to set targets for after 2012. Other countries that have not agreed to the Kyoto accord, such as China and India, are likely to come under increasing pressure to do so in the wake of Russia's decision.
The issue is likely to remain contentious in Russia, where officials continued to snipe at each other about the merits of the decision after the cabinet met this morning and endorsed ratification.
"It's a political decision, it's a forced decision," said presidential economic adviser Andrei Illarionov, a strident opponent who compared the pact to fascism and said it will end Russia's ambition of doubling its gross domestic product in the next 10 years. "It's not a decision we are making with pleasure," he said.
Illarionov, speaking to the Russian news agency Interfax, sarcastically noted that the cabinet's decision would likely be welcomed by the country's economic development and trade minister, German Gref, because he would no longer be responsible if the country fails to meet its targets for economic growth.
But Alexander Bedritsky, head of the Federal Service of Meteorology and Environmental Monitoring, said that "Russia will not lose out." Speaking before the cabinet meeting, he argued that Russia could accrue billions of dollars under terms of the pact that allow countries that do not exceed emission quotas established by the treaty to sell rights to emit to other countries.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia's emissions have fallen by about a third because of an accompanying collapse of heavy industry. But recently the pollution has been rising steadily along with the country's economic growth.
Environmental groups applauded the cabinet's decision and said the treaty would open the country up to major investment in energy efficiency and energy savings. "This is quite significant not only for Russia but for the whole world community," said Vladimir Chuprov, coordinator of the energy unit at Greenpeace Russia. "Kyoto is the first and only international tool to fight against global warming."