EU ministers put pressure on wavering Russia to ratify Kyoto protocol

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The Independent Online

Russia came under pressure from the European Union at the weekend to ratify the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gases, amid fears that Moscow's commitment may be wavering.

The protocol, which is backed by the EU but opposed by Washington, needs the support of the Russians to reach the threshold of backing required for it to come into force. Although Moscow announced last September that it would ratify, it has so far failed to do so, raising fears that the entire international effort to combat climate change could be stalled.

At an EU ministerial meeting in Italy, the European commissioner for the environment, Margot Wallström, stressed that Russia would gain economically from ratification, arguing that Western countries would invest in Russian emission-cutting technology. EU countries could "demonstrate that we are also interested in providing them with clean technology," she said.

The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, added their voices to the pleas to Russia for ratification after their weekend meeting in Japan.

To come into effect, the protocol must be ratified by at least 55 countries, including those responsible for 55 per cent of emissions in 1990 and, once Russia signs, the agreement will come into effect.

Despite the strength of American lobbying against the protocol, most experts believe that Russia's uncertainty owes more to economic difficulties in matching targets to reduce greenhouse gases, than to a more basic rethink of its position.

The protocol, agreed in 1997, requires industrialised nations to cut their emissions to eight per cent below their 1990 levels in an effort to combat the greenhouse effect, which is widely blamed for changes in climate. Although it emits one third of the world's greenhouse gases, the US has rejected the plan, arguing that its implementation would be too costly for its economy, and it would stunt growth and cost jobs.

Ending three days of talks in the Tuscan resort of Montecatini, Ms Wallström reiterated her commitment to Kyoto, brushing aside US suggestions that investment in new energy-generating technologies presented an alternative.

"As attractive as it sounds at first, it is a false choice. We need the Kyoto protocol and new breakthrough technologies," Ms Wallström said. The commissioner added that "abandoning or neglecting this treaty would mean setting back the international effort to combat climate changes."

And she warned that "the latest [EU] member states' emission data show that 10 of the 15 member states are a long way off track for their agreed share of the EU greenhouse-gas emissions target."

The meeting's final document pointed out that "future steps beyond the first commitment need to be developed." Officials mentioned the promotion of renewable energy and biofuels, which derive from crops such as corn, rape seed and soyabeans, as well as extending the Kyoto agenda to sectors such as aviation.

Altero Matteoli, the Italian Environment Minister, called for enhanced cooperation with the US and Russia, as well as with emerging economies,such as India and China.