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Russia a Step Closer to Ratifying Kyoto Pact

Times Staff Writer

Russia’s lower house of parliament approved the Kyoto Protocol on Friday, virtually guaranteeing that the treaty to fight global warming will come into effect early next year.

Ratification still requires approval by the Federation Council, or upper house of parliament, and the signature of President Vladimir V. Putin, but those steps are widely expected. Russian approval would give the treaty enough worldwide support to take effect 90 days after Russia’s ratification documents are delivered to the United Nations in New York.

Because the Bush administration pulled out of the agreement in 2001, the pact’s requirements to reduce “greenhouse gas” emissions would not apply to the United States. But the business units of U.S. corporations operating in countries that have approved the treaty would be affected by its requirements.

The vote Friday was 334-73 with two abstentions.

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“Now the issue is resolved,” said Grigory Pasko, editor-in-chief of Ecology and Law, a Russian-language magazine. “The approval of the Federation Council is just a technicality.... In the end, despite the views of his own advisors, Putin chose in favor of ratifying, and in our country, whatever Putin decides immediately becomes a legal reality.”

Some of Putin’s top economic advisors opposed the treaty out of fear that it would hamper the growth of Russian industry, but the Russian Foreign Ministry strongly favored ratification.

Putin’s decision to endorse the pact has been widely seen as being tied to agreements reached with the European Union on thorny trade issues. But Mikhail G. Delyagin, chairman of the Institute for Globalization Problems, a Moscow think tank, said he believed the decision to back the treaty also reflected a desire to defuse Western criticism on human rights issues.

“We surrendered all positions because we decided to use Kyoto Protocol ratification as the bone we threw to the European dog to stop its barking about the violations of human rights in Russia,” Delyagin said. “Europeans will devour this bone of concession with pleasure, but will not feel obligated to forget their values and principles.”

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The upper house is scheduled to consider the treaty Wednesday.

“Though there will be discussions, of course, I’m sure that common sense will take the upper hand and my colleagues ... will support ratification,” Federation Council speaker Sergei Mironov told the Russian news agency Interfax.

The treaty, hammered out at a 1997 United Nations conference in Kyoto, Japan, has been ratified by more than 120 countries. It was designed to slow global warming by reducing air pollution, particularly the release of carbon dioxide, which many scientists believe creates a “greenhouse” effect. Industrial nations that sign on are required to reduce their emissions of six key gases to 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012.

Russia’s support is needed to reach a key standard for the pact to take effect: approval by countries that accounted for at least 55% of global emissions in 1990. Russia’s share of emissions that year was 17%, while the United States was responsible for 36%.

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U.S. withdrawal meant that ratification by nearly all other industrial countries was required for the treaty to take effect. Canada, Japan and members of the European Union have ratified it.

Backers of the treaty say that though it is only a first step toward addressing the threat of global warming, it will be enough to push forward the development of new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“By signing and ratifying the protocol we are joining the family of civilized peoples and we are not only assuming responsibilities to control emissions but we are gaining access to new energy-saving and more progressive technologies,” Pasko said. “Among other things, the signatories to this protocol pledge to assist one another on various ecological issues.”

“This puts a challenge to the United States -- will it continue with a policy of environmental isolationism, or will it join the rest of the world in addressing the global warming problem?” Annie Petsonk, international counsel for New York-based Environmental Defense, said in a telephone interview.

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In any case, U.S. corporations active in signatory countries will not be able to ignore the treaty, Petsonk said.

Business units of U.S. firms, just like the companies of signatory countries, will be required to restrict emissions to specific levels, she explained. If the companies keep emissions below those levels, they will be able to sell pollution allowances, but if they exceed those levels, they will need to buy allowances, she said.

This market in so-called pollution credits or emission allowances is one of the major attractions of the treaty for Russia. Emissions in Russia have fallen by one-third since 1990 because production by heavy industries has slipped, and by some estimates the country could gain more than $1 billion a year from 2008 to 2012 by selling credits.

“Businesses are beginning to understand that in the future their ability to emit greenhouse gases will be limited, so that Kyoto allowances will become increasingly valuable commodities in the world marketplace, and as with any valuable commodity there will be a scramble to gain ownership,” Petsonk said.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Global emissions

The lower house of Russia’s parliament approved the Kyoto Protocol, but ratification still requires approval by the upper house and President Vladimir V. Putin’s signature. The United States has rejected the treaty.

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Carbon dioxide emissions from burning of fossil fuels

(Million metric tons carbon equivalent)

*--* 1982 2002 United States 4,390 5,749 Western Europe 3,522 3,853 Russia 3,225* 1,522 China 1,500 3,322 India 345 1,026 World totals 18,264 24,533

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*Former Soviet Union

Source: Energy Information Administration

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Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko contributed to this report.

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