Russia Withholds Climate Protocol Ratification

MOSCOW, Russia, September 29, 2003 (ENS) - Russia holds the global climate in the palm of her hand, as it is Russia's ratification of the Kyoto climate protocol that will bring it into force, but Russia will not ratify the protocol any time this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin said today.

Speaking at the opening of the World Conference on Climate Change in Moscow, Putin disappointed other nations such as the European Union member states that have ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The international agreement limits greenhouse gas emissions, particularly emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), produced by the burning of fossil fuels - oil, gas and coal.

"Russia is being called on to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible," President Putin told the opening conference session. "I am sure you will continue to hear those appeals during this conference. I would like to mention that the Russian government is examining carefully this issue together with a whole range of problems linked to it. A decision will be made only after this work has been completed and it will be made in accordance with the national interests of the Russian Federation."

The protocol will become legally binding once it has been ratified by signatory states that represent 55 percent of developed countries' carbon dioxide emissions in the baseline year of 1990. The protocol has been ratified by countries representing 43.7 percent of CO2 emissions. Russia is responsible for producing 17 percent of the CO2 emissions. The United States, which has withdrawn its support for the agreement since President George W. Bush took office, produces an estimated 25 percent of the world's CO2 emissions.

It was Russian President Putin who took the initiative in proposing an international climate meeting to the G8 Summit. The main goal of the World Conference on Climate Change is a comprehensive discussion of the scientific aspects of natural climate change and change caused by human activities.


Russian President Vladimir Putin (left) and U.S. President George W. Bush hold a press conference at Camp David Saturday. (Photo courtesy The White House)
But Putin arrived at the conference fresh from a weekend at Camp David with President Bush. While the two leaders made no direct public statements about climate change, Putin emphasized in a press conference on Saturday the importance to Russia of the U.S. demand for Russian fossil fuels.

"In only six first months of this year, the volume of our mutual trade has increased by more than one-third. We are talking about Russia's balanced policy in the world energy sphere. We conduct a very high level energy dialogue with the United States, including at the very top level. And it's difficult to say what prices would be now - how high prices for fuel in international energy markets would be now, if we had not had such dialogue," Putin said.

"Upon the results of today's meeting, we have compiled a checklist of different issues on which we have given instructions to specific agencies in our government," Putin said, calling the Russian-U.S. cooperation "extremely concrete and pragmatic."

At the World Conference on Climate Change, environmentalists see the connection between the increasingly closer relationship between the U.S. and Russia and Russia's position on climate change.

"President Putin has had more than three years to analyse how Kyoto could be implemented in Russia, and his stalling could now derail the entire process," said Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace. "Russia can play a leading role in helping solve the problem of climate change or it can choose to side with George Bush."

"All is ready for Russian ratification," Guilbeault said. "An additional amendment for the Russian legislation process has already been agreed this September by an inter-ministerial group headed by Vice-Prime Minister Khrastenko. Everything is in President Putin's hands. He has a political, economic and environmental responsibility not just to Russia, but to the world."

All this week at the conference scientists will discuss the impacts of climate change and measures that human societies can take to adapt their economies and ecosystems to ongoing and future climate change. Participants will consider integrated approaches to reducing human interference with the climate system.

While global warming is seen by many countries as an environmental disaster, the Russian president said today that it might not be so bad for his northern nation. "In Russia you can often hear - either as a joke or seriously - that for a northern country like Russia, it won't be that bad if it gets two or three degrees warmer," Putin said. "Maybe it would even be better - we would spend less on fur coats and other warm things, and agriculture specialists say our grain production will increase, and thank God for that."


Russian snows melt into the Barents Sea. June 6, 2003. (Photo by Dr. Aleksey Zuyev, Murmansk Marine Biological Institute)
"All that is true," Putin said, turning serious. "But we must also think about something else. We must think about the consequences of global climate change."

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a message that was read to the conference by Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). "Almost 120 nations have ratified the Kyoto Protocol, an essential first step in tackling this planetary challenge," said Annan. "I join people throughout the world in eagerly awaiting ratification by the Russian Federation, which will bring the Protocol into force and further galvanize global action.

Professor Godwin Obasi of Nigeria, Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), says scientific observations of all the organization's member governments show that the Earth's surface temperatures are rising, and human activities are responsible for the change.

"Today’s concentration of CO2 has not been exceeded during the past 420,000 years," Obasi said. "More than half of the CO2 increase occurred since 1950 and is proportional to the primary energy use."

Scientific assessments have shown, said Obasi, "that over the past several decades, pollution from human activities, especially burning of fossil fuels for energy production and transportation, is changing the composition of the atmosphere."

"There is certainty from the surface temperature data collected by WMO’s Global Observing System that the globally averaged surface temperatures are rising," the WMO leader said.

According to records maintained by members of WMO, the warmest year since the global instrumental record began in the 1860s occurred in 1998, with 2002 being the second highest. Eleven of the 13 warmest years on record have occurred since 1990. The year 2003 is already promising to rank alongside the three warmest years on record, Obasi said.


Meteoologist Professor Godwin Obasi heads the World Meteorological Organization. (Photo courtesy IISD)
A growing number of extreme weather and climate events, are occurring, some of which are of "unprecedented intensity," Obasi said. "These often result in serious environmental, ecological and socio-economic consequences. We still remember the recent record-breaking and protracted high temperatures experienced in Europe and elsewhere that caused the loss of thousands of lives this year. Significant damage was caused by the related widespread forest fires that destroyed properties in a number of countries including France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and here in the Russian Federation."

The WMO chief called for the strengthening existing infrastructure and new initiatives for enhanced monitoring and research, reduction of uncertainties in climate prediction as well as the provision of climate related services.

"Countries need to develop and implement policies at the national, regional and global levels on actions to be taken to mitigate the impacts of climate change, while adapting to the changing climate," Obasi urged. "In this regard, special attention should be given to the pressing challenges facing developing countries."

UN Secretary-General Annan too warned of the consequences of global warming for developing countries. "By the end of this century, as a result of ever-increasing emissions of greenhouse gases, our planet may look very different: with many small islands gone, the Arctic Ocean free of ice for many months of the year, agricultural regions dramatically altered, and our ecological life-support systems under stress as never before. Developing countries are especially vulnerable."

"If this forecast comes true," said Annan, "our children and grandchildren will not understand how we allowed this to happen."