Kyoto Is Saved Again But Will It Save the Earth?
ROME Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to ask parliament to ratify the Kyoto Protocol should belatedly allow the anti-global-warming treaty to come into force, but it's far from saving the climate.
While Putin, who once joked that the chilly regions of Russia could benefit from global warming, basks in the praise of environmentalists, climate experts say that even with the treaty in place, the world has barely started to tackle climate change.
Scientists say a reduction of at least 70 percent of greenhouse emissions over this century is necessary to curb the worst effects of climate change, which could include rising sea levels, flooding, and more frequent chaotic weather events such as hurricanes and droughts.
The pact requires developed countries to reduce greenhouse emissions by 5.2 percent of 1990 levels by the period 2008-2012.
But without the United States which withdrew in 2001 and with loopholes designed to entice Russia and Japan into ratifying, Kyoto may ultimately only cut emissions by as little as 1 percent, some analysts say.
"The 5-percent reduction was a baby step; this is an even more baby step," said Greenpeace's Steve Sawyer.
Despite that, environmentalists are still delighted at the prospect of Russian ratification. It will mean that nations accounting for more than 55 percent of developed countries' carbon dioxide emissions are on board, the last requirement for the treaty to become binding.
"I hope other nations ... will now join us in this truly global endeavor," said Klaus Toepfer, head of the U.N. Environment Program, with a nod to Australia and perhaps the United States.
The Australian general election next week pits an anti-Kyoto government against a pro-Kyoto opposition.
In the United States, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry has said Washington should take a lead in confronting global warming although he also says it is too late to sign up for Kyoto, which runs until 2012 and which the incumbent George W. Bush withdrew from.
Kyoto's supporters say the Russian decision will also galvanize support for sometimes painful and costly emission reduction measures in countries that were starting to waver.
Loyola de Palacio, head of transport and energy policy at the European Commission which fought to keep Kyoto afloat after Bush's pullout said last week the E.U. should rethink its own climate policy if Russia did not ratify.
The E.U. is set to launch the world's first international greenhouse gas emissions trading system in January, allowing countries and firms that cannot reach their targets to buy "credits" from neighbors who have made greater cuts.
Russia, which will have a surplus of credits due to the collapse of much of its Soviet-era industry since 1990, will be a net seller. The emissions trading data firm Point Carbon said Russia could make US$10 billion in this way by 2012.
The emergence of emissions trading could be a way for the United States to return to the global climate effort.
"The United States is in a difficult position because they are now isolated and they don't like to sit at the back of the room and have no influence," said Dirk Forrister, a former U.S. climate change negotiator who is now managing director of the emissions trading firm Natsource Europe. "There will be increased pressure on the United States from the international community to do a parallel program of some kind. That's true, whatever party wins the next election."
With Kyoto now apparently brought back to life, negotiations can begin again on new, tougher targets for after 2012 and the possibility of getting fast-developing nations to accept curbs. Those talks could start at a U.N. climate change meeting in Buenos Aires in December.
By 2012, environmentalists hope the United States might rejoin the system. "We might need to change its name," said Greenpeace's Sawyer. "People in Washington come out in a rash when you mention Kyoto."