- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

Russia yesterday cooled talk that it would not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to slow global warming.

“We are moving toward ratification,” Deputy Economy Minister Mukhamed Tsikanov said at a news conference in Moscow.

The statement came just one day after an adviser to President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not ratify the pact because it would restrict economic growth.

The Kyoto Protocol is a U.N.-brokered agreement to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Most scientists believe the gases trap heat in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming, a phenomenon that could alter the climate significantly in the next century.

The United States, the world’s heaviest polluter, rejected the treaty in 2001. Because nations producing 55 percent of greenhouse gases must ratify Kyoto before it takes effect, Russia’s participation is all but mandatory.

“Russia will ratify the protocol if it is proved that it is in our interest,” Mr. Tsikanov said. The treaty might be sent to Russia’s parliament as soon as next year, he added.

A day earlier, Andrei Illarionov, Mr. Putin’s economics adviser, said the agreement would not be ratified.

“In its current form, the Kyoto Protocol places significant restrictions on Russia’s economic growth,” Mr. Illarionov said.

Mr. Tsikanov did not comment on Mr. Illarionov’s statement.

Observers said the mixed messages have as much to do with posturing during negotiations and internal politics before a general parliamentary election Sunday as they do with the pact.

“Russia is in a strong position because the pact needs them … and maybe they are trying to wring more concessions,” said Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner for Greenpeace USA, a group that supports the climate protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol calls for nations to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, below 1990 levels. Although the 15-nation European Union and other major Kyoto supporters are having difficulty meeting commitments, Russia and other former communist countries in Europe are positioned to exceed them.

Russia was just emerging from communism in the early 1990s and its heavy industries were going full bore and spewing pollution. Since then, its economy has contracted and factories have had to become more efficient, meaning an easy reduction in emissions below 1990 levels.

That would leave Russia in a position to trade greenhouse gas “credits” on markets that would be established in 2008 under Kyoto. Buyers would come from nations that can’t meet the targets.

Russia is able to trade credits equal to about 3 billion tons of greenhouse gas, Mr. Tsikanov said.

When the United States opted out of the pact, a major buyer disappeared. The European Union might not be a good market for the credits, said John Reilly, associate director for research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.

Russia might have earned $5 billion to $10 billion per year selling credits, but once the United States rejected the protocol, the supposed gain fell to about $200 million, Mr. Reilly said.

“Russia’s interest is purely what economic gain they can get out of ratifying,” Mr. Reilly said.

The country also is negotiating accession to the World Trade Organization.

Russia also has complained that EU terms are too restrictive and that EU expansion — the bloc is set to add 10 new countries next year — could rob it of traditional markets, especially in Central Europe.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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