MOSCOW Russian President
Vladimir Putin surprised the world Friday by throwing the U.N.'s Kyoto
treaty on climate change a lifeline, disregarding official advice to kill it
The United Nations and many
environmentalists hailed Putin's decision, which revives the 1997 protocol
as the main plan to reduce gases that cause global warming. The protocol
stalled after the United States pulled out of the deal in 2001, but Russia's
support would enable it to take effect anyway.
Speaking after talks with European
Union officials, which agreed to terms for Russian entry to the World Trade
Organization, Putin said Russia would move rapidly to ratify.
Just the day before, high-level
sources said Russia planned a new lengthy round of consultations lasting
"This is a very welcome and
positive signal," said Klaus Toepfer, head of the U.N. Environment
Program. "It is vital that the Kyoto protocol enters into force as a
first step toward stabilizing the global climate," he said in a
statement. "Ratification by Russia is the last crucial step needed to
make Kyoto operational."
The pact has hinged on Russia since
the United States, the world's leading producer of greenhouse gases, pulled
out, arguing it was too costly and wrongly excluded poor nations.
Kyoto cannot come into force unless
countries responsible for 55 percent of rich nations' greenhouse gas
emissions ratify it. Kyoto has reached 44 percent, and Russia's 17 percent
will tip the balance without Washington's 36 percent.
Putin had previously refused to
back Kyoto and had demanded state bodies first send official
The two reports so far prepared by
the Academy of Sciences and a Putin adviser criticized the
pact, and observers were baffled that Putin would go ahead and back it
before the process he set up had concluded.
"I really did not expect
this," said Alexei Kokorin, a Kyoto expert at the WWF environmental
group. "He spoke without official advice, but it shows that he is well
informed. Putin always has the last word."
Kyoto seeks to restrain emissions
of carbon dioxide, mainly from cars and factories, as a step to slow climate
change that may spread deserts, trigger mudslides and typhoons, and melt
Analysts had long expected Putin
would only give in to E.U. pressure on Kyoto in return for an agreement for
Russia to enter the WTO. They say the pact was a minor issue for the Russian
president and mainly of use as a bargaining chip.
Putin explicitly linked the events:
"The fact that the E.U. has met us halfway in negotiations on the WTO
could not but have helped Moscow's positive attitude to the question of
ratifying the Kyoto Protocol," he said.
But observers warned that Russia
had a lot to do to prepare for the pact and that approval was still not
"I'm cautiously optimistic.
It's not a cut-and-dried promise, but it will be much harder for Russia to
decide 'no' to Kyoto now," said Steve Sawyer, climate policy director
at the Greenpeace environmental group.
And no one made big promises to
Moscow, which hopes to attract new investments.
"Russia's signature would be of crucial importance" for Kyoto,
said Frauke Stamer, spokeswoman for the German Environment Ministry, adding
that Moscow would not benefit from ratifying until it entered into force.
Russia will have no problem
complying with Kyoto's goals because its emissions have crashed along with
the collapse of Soviet-era industries, giving it spare "hot air"
to sell abroad.
New Yorkbased Evolution Markets,
which trades emissions credits, said that Putin's decision could spur
interest in the market. "Canada and Japan are most likely going to be
net buyers," spokesman Evan Ard said.
Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp., the
world's largest publicly traded energy company, said in a statement that it
opposes caps on greenhouse emissions. But spokeswoman Lauren Kerr said Exxon
complies with regulations on its operations around the world.
(Additional reporting by Alister
Doyle in Oslo, Timothy Gardner in New York, and Moritz Doebler in Bonn)
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