Cutting back. Russia appears set to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to scale back greenhouse gas emissions.

Russia Ready to Ratify Kyoto Protocol

David is a Deputy News Editor specializing in coverage of science policy, energy and the environment.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Russian lawmakers will "almost certainly" ratify the Kyoto Protocol by the end of year, pushing into effect the landmark global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a senior Russian government adviser predicted today. But it is unlikely that the agreement, which the United States has refused to endorse, will significantly slow the buildup of greenhouse gases anytime soon, experts caution.

Although more than 120 nations have accepted the 1997 protocol, which requires that industrialized nations cut carbon emissions by about 5% below 1990 levels by 2012, it can't take effect until ratified by nations accounting for at least 55% of emissions. Three years ago, the Bush Administration struck a major blow against the agreement when it announced that the U.S., which accounted for 36.1% of 1990 emissions, was withdrawing from the pact. That left Kyoto's fate in the hands of Russia, which accounted for 17.4% of emissions and had expressed major doubts about the protocol. But yesterday, under pressure from the European Union and domestic energy companies that could benefit from the pact, the Russian government announced it would recommend ratification to parliament.

"There is a very high probability the parliament will soon ratify [the pact]," Andrey Illarionov, President Vladimir Putin's top economic adviser, said today at a conference here. The protocol would enter into force 3 months after Russia's ratification. Many environmentalists are hailing the development. But climate scientists caution that the protocol represents just a small step toward controlling emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases that are collecting in the atmosphere and warming the planet. Major emitters, including China and the U.S., won't be bound by the pact, they note. So even if nations meet their Kyoto targets, the treaty alone won't prevent the doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations over the next century, they say.

Still, "Putin has brought us to a pivotal point," says Steve Sawyer of Greenpeace International in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. "It will be the opening bell for a new and fateful set of negotiations, with Russia and Europe facing China and the U.S. in a critical dialogue over how to cut greenhouse gas pollution," predicts Peter Goldmark of Environmental Defense, an environmental group based in New York City.

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