Who's afraid of the Kyoto Protocol?

Russian president Putin?

Last Updated: Sunday 07 June 2015

-- RUSSIA is to support the Kyoto Protocol, now President Putin says. He's said it before, and not supported it. The latest statement may therefore be some more 'hot air', but it did come in a context where Russia's nod for the protocol was the currency of an attractive deal with its main trading ally, the European Union (EU), on World Trade Organization (WTO) membership. The EU withdrew its demand that Russia increase its internal energy prices to accede to WTO, and Putin waxed eloquent at the EU-Russia summit held at the Kremlin, Moscow, on May 21.

Nevertheless, it is the strongest indication so far that Russia will not abandon the protocol. Typically, Putin said he could not guarantee 100 per cent ratification -- whatever that means -- but expectations are high that, at last, Russia will sign and the belaboured protocol will enter into force.

Its been three years since the protocol became Russia's exclusive burden, after the US unilaterally refused to ratify in 2001. Putin has kept his cards close to his chest; his economic advisor Andrei Illarionov, meanwhile, seized every opportunity to tell the world how bad the protocol was for Russia's economy.

Also there were two genuine factors that did make it less profitable for Russia to ratify the protocol -- with the US withdrawal, there are far less takers of Russia's surplus emissions; and, under the soon to begin European emissions trading scheme, member states may prefer to buy emission credits from the latest entrants to the EU after the May 2004 enlargemnt -- and this may also have tilted the balance towards it. So if the purpose of prevarication was to provoke the EU into conceding on other fronts, then Putin has certainly succeeded.

So, hopefully, has the protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, as the South well knows, is not the best game in town. But there are those who also say that it is the only game in town. Sure, 'only game' has become a clich since 1997 -- the year of its inception. Despite that, if Putin transforms his words into action and the protocol is revived, the global negotiations to combat climate change is sure to receive a much-needed boost. The least industrialised countries will then have to do is ensure successful implementation. The rest of us, meanwhile, can only hope to find ways to ensure that the (yet to be Putinised into existence) post-Kyoto phase will not be one as full of compromises and deadlocks as the Kyoto Protocol phase.

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