Ratifies Kyoto Protocol
week the Russian Duma, its lower house of parliament, ratified the Kyoto
Protocol with an overwhelming majority. The Cabinet had last month approved
Russia joining the international covenant, yet there had been fears of a more
fierce contest in parliament given the sharp and unusually vocal divisions even
at the highest levels of government. Clearly president Putins strong backing
had decisively won the day.
Protocol is the major operative outcome of the tortuous and highly contentious
global negotiations underway since 1997 as part of the International Framework
Convention for Climate Change (IFCCC). Even though these columns have
extensively covered the issue during the long drawn out negotiations, readers
may find a brief recap useful.
Kyoto Protocol governs emissions of 6 major greenhouse gases (GHGs), chiefly
carbon dioxide and methane generated mostly as a result of burning fossil fuels
in power plants, industries and vehicles. GHGs accumulate in the upper layers of
the atmosphere like a blanket trapping heat below it resulting in climate
change, increasing temperatures and rise in sea-levels.
Protocol stipulates that developed countries and the industrialised former
Socialist countries in Eastern Europe should stabilise GHG emissions at 1990
levels by 2005 and reduce emissions by 5.1 per cent by 2012 mainly through
deployment of improved technologies and shifting to non carbon-based energy.
Developing countries on the other hand do not have obligations during the same
period but would be called upon to begin reductions in the next phase after
2012, in a manner to be negotiated beginning next year, while they are assisted
by developed countries through technology transfer and monetary assistance.
order to take effective, the Protocol was required to be ratified by the
concerned legislative bodies (not merely signed by the governments of the day)
of at least 55 per cent of signatory countries, which more importantly, must
account for at least 55 per cent of GHG emissions. Till last month, as many as
124 countries (not including India or China) had ratified the agreement
representing 44 per cent of global GHG emissions. The USA generates a mammoth
36 per cent of global emissions and, surprising nobody, had walked out of the
Treaty in 2001 soon after George W Bush became president. If Kyoto were ever
to become a reality, it was imperative that Russia joins up since it contributes
17 per cent (all figures with 1990 as baseline). With the Duma ratification, the
55 per cent target has been crossed. There now remains what is expected to be a
routine endorsement by the Russian Senate and signature by president Putin. In
about a year, when the United Nations completes all other formalities, the Kyoto
Protocol will finally come into force.
this, despite the numerous shortcomings of the Treaty, it may be only a slight
exaggeration to say that we are witnessing turning point in human history, in
several significant ways this article proposes to discuss.
first let us look at how Russia finally agreed to ratify the Protocol after
earlier refusing to do so and, given the US holdout position, virtually
threatening to bring the entire effort to naught.
had long been sceptical about joining the Treaty on the grounds, similar to
those advanced by the US, that it would impose unacceptable economic costs and
made no secret about its reservations. Even as late as last year, despite
pressure from many quarters especially the European Union, Russia was digging
its heels using one excuse or another. It even argued that it needed more time
in order to translate documents into Russian! It then wanted to convene a
special Conference to re-discuss the science of climate change, virtually taking
the issue back to its beginnings more than a decade ago.
sections of domestic opinion continued to oppose Russia joining the Treaty as
they felt it would hinder its economic development by putting curbs on energy
use at a time when Russia could ill afford expensive new technologies. Andrei
Illarionov, president Putin’s economic advisor, a staunch and outspoken
opponent, said even immediately after the Cabinet decision: “It is a forced
decision, its a political decision… not a decision we took happily”
and that it would make president Putin’s promise of doubling gross domestic
product in a decade unattainable.
political reasons were chiefly the European Unions inexorable pressure on
Russia to accede to the Kyoto Protocol in return for EU support for Russias
admission into the WTO. And thats a story in itself, as discussed below, not
least because of the clear and sharp differences on the issue between the EU and
the US and their long-term political significance. That Russia finally chose to
go along with the EU rather than with the US conveys its own message to the
president Putin pushed through the decision for economic reasons as well.
an earlier Conference of Parties (Marrakech, 2002) negotiating the Protocol,
Russia, realising its crucial value, demanded and obtained huge concessions as a
condition for agreeing to sign on.
of the Treaty being negotiated were provisions allowing for emission
trading, that is, countries emitting below their targets being able to
sell the carbon credits thus earned to countries emitting above
their permitted levels, the idea being to provide incentives for lower
emissions, although it also provides an alibi by allowing polluters to pay for
high emissions rather than reduce them. Emission credits can also be earned by
paying for carbon sinks such as afforestation including in other
countries, the theory being that since forests absorb carbon dioxide, net
emissions to the atmosphere would be lowered. Russia forced a deal in which the
then drop in emissions (close to 30 per cent below 1990 baseline levels) due to
its steep economic decline were recognised as a new baseline for calculating
when the Russian economy is recovering, it still has emission credits to sell
and stands to make windfall profits. Russian deputy prime minister Zhukov has
said that Russia is likely to approach its permitted Kyoto target quotas by 2012
only if GDP grew by an unlikely 9 to 10 per cent a year. Meanwhile, some
estimates put the possible Russian gains through emissions trading to be as high
as 10 billion US dollar (Rs 50,000 crore) over the next 10 years!
the prolonged negotiations, the US played spoiler and pulled out its entire bag
of tricks from cajoling, bullying to outright blackmail in order to derail or
sabotage the Treaty.
The US had come a long way since the early climate change conferences when the
then Democratic vice president Al Gore championed the cause of a global treaty.
Huge pressure was mounted by US special interests groups, especially oil and
energy corporates, the automobile industry and conservative economic and
business groups. Former president Bill Clinton, also a liberal Democrat,
had signed the Treaty but did not submit it to Congress for ratification for
three whole years of his second term in office. When president Bush took office,
backed (some would say actually steered) by geopolitical neo-conservatives and
special interest groups, with close friends in the oil and energy sectors, it
took him no time at all to walk out of the Treaty.
was not an isolated act. The US under Bush, with the by now well-known neo-con
aversion to multilateralism, also walked out of international Treaties on
Biological & Chemical Weapons, the Comprehensive [Nuclear] Test Ban Treaty
or CTBT — so much for US concerns about weapons of mass destruction — and
abrogated the Anti Ballistic Missile Treaty between the US and Russia.
the US being far and away the largest carbon polluter on the planet, its stand
on the Kyoto Protocol has exposed its utter lack of concern for the common good
vis-à-vis the interests of large corporates and MNCs, asserting the right to a
high-consumption life-style in the US at the cost of other countries and
peoples, indeed of the very survival of life on earth.
the EU tried its best to avoid a split among the leading advanced capitalist
countries, US obduracy left it no option except to continue on its own path,
strongly advocating the cause of the Treaty. The EU has already, even before the
Treaty comes into effect, adopted legislation enforcing reductions in carbon
emissions with some countries such as Germany targeting 30 per cent reductions
by the end of the decade!
staunch US allies such as Britain, Japan and Canada who tried their best to
bridge the divide and persuade other countries to fall in line with impossible
US demands finally gave up and have endorsed the Treaty. Today, the US is
totally isolated with the exception being Australia, with its staunchly
Conservative government headed by John Howard having recently been elected for
its fourth successive term in office, and some fossil-fuel dependent countries
such as Saudi Arabia. And even Australia is now apprehensive about its
isolation, partly because of not very veiled EU threats of sanctions.
unilateral US invasion of Iraq, much against the opinion of its allies in Europe
and elsewhere, and defying world opinion expressed in the apex international
body the United Nations, and dragging into the war unenthusiastic countries with
token military contributions merely to convey the idea of a coalition of the
willing, has no doubt underlined the US isolation in world affairs and an
unprecedented revulsion of US policies worldwide.
the US isolation on the Kyoto Protocol has special significance. It is little
wonder that Russias ratification has been greeted with loud cheers by the EU,
especially Germany, and the UN secretary general, not without barbed comments
aimed against the US. It is the first International Treaty to have been forged
and taken effect (barring some formalities) without the US.
This is bound to have serious implications and long-term ramifications in
the battle against world imperialism led by the US.
A NEW ERA?
the Kyoto Protocol coming into effect, all countries will have to take effective
measures to reduce GHG emissions. Without the US coming on board, the target of
around 5 per cent emission reductions would be difficult to achieve but even the
US, under pressure at home and abroad, has announced unilateral measures to
check GHG emissions and adopt cleaner technologies. Despite all the weaknesses
built in to the Treaty such as permitting emissions trading or carbon
sinks instead of actual emission reductions, there is little doubt that GHG
emissions will become a reality sooner rather than later as has happened with
ozone depleting substances.
the short term the Treaty would mean more energy efficient technologies so that
emissions are minimized and better demand management through changes in
lifestyle and consumption patterns as well as through technological
interventions minimizing energy use. In the medium term, one would see an
increasing adoption of alternative non-fossil sources of energy such as solar,
wind and geo-thermal energy as well as, despite Green opposition, nuclear
energy too. Hydrogen-based technologies and fuel cells are being rapidly
developed and hydrogen-based automobiles are being readied for commercial
deployment within a decade.
burning of carbon-bearing fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas were the basis
for the Industrial Revolution and are the foundation for todays economy
worldwide. In the long term, the Kyoto Protocol is a harbinger of a decisive
shift away from this system towards a new non-carbon based era.