Tuesday, December 2, 2003

A Russian official yesterday said his country will not sign the Kyoto Protocol, a move that would effectively kill the U.N.-brokered agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“In its current form, the Kyoto Protocol places significant restrictions on Russia’s economic growth,” said Andrei Illarionov, President Vladimir Putin’s economics adviser. “That means it can’t be ratified,” he told reporters in Moscow.

The United States in 2001 backed away from the pact, which is meant to prevent global warming. The treaty requires countries that produce 55 percent of greenhouse gases ratify it, meaning the United States or Russia must ratify it for it to take effect.

European and U.N. officials downplayed the statement, noting that it came from an aide and not the president.

“Russia has not said formally ‘no’ to ratification. They have not come to the European Union and to the other parties and said, ‘No, we’re not ratifying,’” Ewa Hedlund, a spokeswoman for European Union Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, told Agence France-Presse.

An official at the Russian Embassy in Washington said Mr. Illarionov made a “personal statement.”

“The official position is that Russia has signed the Kyoto Protocol and we never said we will not ratify,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

The Kyoto pact, a centerpiece of the climate agenda for 120 countries that have signed on, cannot take effect unless countries that produce 55 percent of greenhouse gases ratify it.

The Russian statement came as delegates from 188 nations began meeting in Milan, Italy, for a U.N. summit on global climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol commits countries to reducing greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels by 2012. Kyoto supporters and many scientists say the gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, trap heat from the sun and contribute to global warming.

The United Nations projected that if no steps are taken to slow greenhouse gas emissions, levels could triple and temperatures could increase 2 to 10 degrees over the next 100 years.

The National Academy of Sciences reported that such a change could mean increased drought in areas like the Great Plains, but also higher sea levels and increased wind and flood damage in coastal regions.

“Global warming could well have serious adverse societal and ecological impacts by the end of this century,” the academy said in its 2001 report.

“You would have to spend less money on fur coats and other warm things,” Mr. Putin joked at a conference in September, where he backed Russia away from quick accession to the protocol.

A U.S. official, speaking at the conference’s opening, said global warming science is primitive.

“From a science perspective, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty in our ability to understand what is going on today,” said Conrad Lautenbacher, commerce undersecretary for oceans and atmosphere, and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Underscoring difficulties for enforcing the treaty, the 15-nation European Union is on a pace to miss its emission targets under the 1997 protocol, an EU report said yesterday.

The European Union is the pact’s biggest international booster.

“Unless more is done, the EU as a whole and the majority of its member states will miss their Kyoto emission targets,” Mrs. Wallstrom said in a letter to environment ministers from member states.

“This is serious. Time is running out,” she said.

U.S. emissions were “stable” the past three years but during the middle and late 1990s, grew by 13 percent to 14 percent, Harlan Watson, senior climate negotiator and special representative from the State Department, said at the opening of the Milan conference.

The United States has a voluntary system that seeks to reduce emissions as a percentage of economic output, a formula that would allow an absolute increase. Under Kyoto, it would have had to reduce emissions 7 percent below 1990 levels.

“We are taking concrete actions and we are investing billions of dollars annually to address global climate change,” Mr. Watson said.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports

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