Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Putin wary of signing Kyoto Protocol

CLIMATE CHANGE The Russian president joked that global warming might save people money on fur coats as he backed away from a pledge to swiftly ratify the pact


Russian President Vladimir Putin backed away on Monday from Russia's earlier pledge to swiftly ratify a key UN pact on curbing global warming -- a plan that will collapse without its backing.

Delegates at a World Climate Change Conference said it was too early to talk of the possible death of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol despite Moscow's long indecision.

Putin even joked that a warmer climate might save Russians money on fur coats.

Pressure mounted on Putin to push through the pact with French President Jacques Chirac saying future relations between the EU and the Russian Federation depended on it. Putin told 940 delegates at the start of the five-day talks, to which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a message urging a Russian "Yes," that Moscow was "closely studying and examining this question" of Kyoto.

"This is part of a complex of difficult and unclear problems. A decision will be taken when this work is finished," Putin said, giving no timetables. Under the pact's terms, Kyoto can only enter into force if Russia ratifies.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said at the Earth Summit a year ago in Johannesburg that Moscow's parliament was expected to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in the "very near future." Russian officials have attached strings in recent weeks, including guarantees of economic benefits.

Kyoto seeks to rein in emissions of gases like carbon dioxide from fossil fuels burnt in factories and cars that are blamed for blanketing the planet and driving up temperatures, raising sea levels and causing heatwaves, floods, droughts and tornadoes.

Russia will have no problem reaching emissions goals because of the collapse of its Soviet-era heavy industry. But a US pullout from Kyoto in 2001 has undermined what might have been an US$8.0 billion annual market for Russia, selling surplus emissions quotas abroad.

Russia is the world's No. 2 oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia. Oil prices could be hit by any shift towards renewable energies like solar or wind power. Kyoto has strong backing from the EU, Russia's main trading partner.

Annan, in a message to the conference, called Kyoto a "vital first step in tackling global challenges of global warming" and said that "our children and grandchildren" would not understand inaction now.

"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," he said.

In a letter to Putin, Chirac said the pact "would underline Russia's determination to accept all the responsibilities of a large modern country towards future genera-tions." It would give the partnership between the Russian Federation and the EU "greater legitimacy" in the fields of energy and environmental protection, he added.

"I therefore see in it an essential element to the constitution of the common economic area we decided to create in St Petersburg," Chirac said, referring to plans for a common European economic space.

Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which oversees Kyoto, told Putin she had hoped Russia would set a date for ratification.

After criticisms of foot-dragging, Putin told delegates in unprepared remarks: "People say we are a northern country and a temperature 2 to 3 degrees warmer would not be scary, maybe it would be good.

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