Putin refuses to say if Russia will ratify Kyoto protocol

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, fuelled concern about the future of the world climate change treaty yesterday when he refused to say whether Russia would ratify it.

Disregarding pleas from the UN and several European leaders, the President spurned the opportunity to announce his support for the Kyoto protocol at the opening of a climate change conference in Moscow.

Since the US dropped out of Kyoto in 2001, the treaty, which commits industrialised countries to cut back on emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, needs Russia's support for it to enter into force. If Russia declines, a 15-year international effort to counter climate change will collapse.

Mr Putin said yesterday: "The government is thoroughly considering and studying this issue, studying the entire complex of difficult problems linked with it. The decision will be made after this work has been completed, and of course it will take into account the national interests of the Russian Federation."

Pressed by conference delegates for a ratification commitment, Mr Putin responded ambiguously and pointed to domestic critics of the Kyoto pact who have said that global warming would have benefits for Russia.

"They often say, half-jokingly and half-seriously, that Russia is a northern country and if temperatures get warmer by two or three degrees, it's not that bad - we could spend less on warm coats and agricultural experts say that grain harvests would increase further," he said. "That may be so, but we must also think about the consequences of global climate change."

He added: "We must think what consequences of these changes we will face in certain regions where there will be droughts and where there will be floods." Russian officials must consider "what consequences there will be for people living in these regions; social, economic and environmental consequences".

The treaty calls for industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. If a country exceeds the emissions level, it could be forced to cut back industrial production.

Russia's emissions are substantially lower than in 1990 because of the collapse of post-Soviet industry. Mr Putin said Russia's emissions have decreased by 32 per cent since 1990, a fall he asserted was due not only to economic decline but also to structural reforms.

Russian officials have suggested the country will eventually ratify Kyoto, and supporters of the pact had hoped it woulddo so this week.