Kyoto treaty to be binding after Russian ratification

Environmentalists hailed Russia as the world's ecological saviour yesterday after the Russian parliament made good on President Vladimir Putin's promise to endorse the Kyoto climate change pact. Yesterday's vote will see the UN treaty take effect early next year.

Environmentalists hailed Russia as the world's ecological saviour yesterday after the Russian parliament made good on President Vladimir Putin's promise to endorse the Kyoto climate change pact. Yesterday's vote will see the UN treaty take effect early next year.

The world's industrialised countries (with the exception of America, the largest polluter) will have to cut their collective emissions of six greenhouse gases to 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels in eight years or face stiff penalties and global humiliation.

Russian MPs voted in favour of ratification by 334 to 73, taking their lead from Mr Putin, whose cabinet approved the pact last month. Calling the decision "the moment in history when humanity faced up to its responsibility," Greenpeace's climate policy adviser, Steve Sawyer, praised Russia's environmental credentials. "We'll toast the Duma [Russian parliament] with vodka tonight," he said.

Vladimir Grachev, chairman of the Duma's environmental committee, told the lower house that it was a proud moment for Russia. "By ratifying the Kyoto protocol, Russia is strengthening its international authority and becoming an ecological leader," he said.

Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said the decision was a milestone that "will concentrate the efforts of governments, business and industry on meeting the Kyoto targets and concentrate efforts on how we can deliver even deeper cuts".

France also hailed the Russian decision. It was an historic step, Serge Lepeltier, theFrench ecology minister. said. It was a "truly decisive event in the struggle against the leading environmental threat to the planet which is climate change."

Once it is approved by Russia's upper house and President Vladimir Putin ­ which is all but assured ­ the pact will have been ratified by the necessary 55 countries that accounted for at least 55 per cent of global emissions in 1990.

Russia's upper house still has to ratify the pact and Mr Putin sign it into law, but both are seen as being merely procedural. Yesterday's vote was billed as the one that counted.

Mr Putin signalled that Russia would sign on the dotted line in May, making it clear that EU support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) had been influential. "We support the Kyoto process," he said at the time. "The fact that the EU 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."

Mr Putin decided to back the pact in the face of often fierce domestic opposition. Two reports ­ one by the country's academy of sciences and another by a senior policy adviser ­ recommended he reject because it would cause irreparable damage to Russia's economy. Andrei Illarionov, an adviser to Mr Putin on economic matters, was particularly negative, angering Jewish groups by likening it to a "global Auschwitz", whose main purpose was to stifle economic growth.

The importance of Russia's ratification cannot be overstated. With America's continued refusal to ratify Kyoto Russia, responsible for 17 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, essentially had the casting vote. To enter into force the pact needed to be ratified by developed countries responsible for 55 per cent of emissions. That figure was 44 per cent before Russia came on board; now it is 61.

Greenpeace warned against complacency, calling for new global warming talks, greater lobbying of America over the issue and for governments to go beyond Kyoto and make even deeper cuts in emissions. "We now need to roll up our sleeves and work to build on the Kyoto protocol to ensure that the industrial revolution of the 20th century will be followed by a clean energy revolution of equal magnitude for the 21st century," Stephen Tindale, the organisation's executive director, said.

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