Russian maneuvering may kill treaty
Environmental politics are rarely about the environment. Even though the Russian parliament has approved the Kyoto Protocol, President Putin hinted publicly that he would not ratify the treaty until either the United States ratifies or until his government has negotiated beneficial breaks for Russia.
Under a complex weighting system, countries accounting for 55 percent of the developed world’s 1990 carbon dioxide emissions must ratify the treaty for it to enter into force. Currently, 29 industrialized countries representing 44 percent of the developed world’s emissions have ratified the treaty.
The U.S. share of emissions is 36 percent and Russia has 17 percent. In addition to the United States and Russia, the United Nations reports that several other industrialized countries have either refused to sign or not indicated their position. They include Australia, Croatia, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Slovenia and the Ukraine. But even if these countries ratified the treaty, it will not matter mathematically, as they do not push the environmental calculus past the magic 55 percent.
In 2001, the Bush Administration publicly stated it would not ratify the protocol, thus leaving Russia with the final, and most powerful, playing card. If Russia fails to ratify, the Kyoto Protocol dies.
Russia wanted the United States to ratify the treaty. Why? It is simple. Cash-starved Russia was counting on selling Kyoto-approved ‘rights to pollute’ to Washington. Given that Russian emissions are below Kyoto specifications, the BBC reported that Russia would sell the remainder of its quota to other nations, in particular to the United States, the world’s largest polluter. It was a deal that could bring Russia up to $8 billion per year in revenues. Without the United States, Russia gains little for itself.
Thus, Russia has sought income guarantees to sweeten its ratification incentives. Without guaranteed U.S. emission purchases, Russia fears Kyoto ratification would lower world demand (and thus, world prices) for oil and gas. Given that Russia’s oil exports are surpassed only by Saudi Arabia and Russian gas fields are plentiful, this poses a problem for Russia. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has been accused by pro-Kyoto countries of pressuring Russia to deny ratification.
The BBC has reported that climate scientists believe the 5 percent reduction of emissions from industrialized countries is paltry. But scientists must recognize that while that 5 percent reduction is not radical, creating the world’s first emission reduction treaty against the wishes of the world’s largest polluter, the United States, is radical.
It is not a failure to achieve a little, but it is a failure to achieve nothing at all.
Kim Olsen is a graduate student in the Maxwell school. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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