Russia May Doom Kyoto Protocol

Published January 1, 2004

As Russian President Vladimir Putin met with European business leaders in Moscow on December 2, his top economic issues advisor explained to reporters at the Kremlin why Russia won’t ratify the Kyoto Protocol.

“In its current form, the Kyoto Protocol places significant limitations on the economic growth of Russia,” explained Andrei Illarionov. “This protocol can’t be ratified.”

If Russia does not ratify the treaty, it cannot come into effect.

A day after Illarionov conveyed the Russian government’s opposition to the Protocol, the country’s deputy minister for economic development and trade, Mukhamed Tsikanov, muddied the issue. Tsikanov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Russian officials have not ruled out ratifying the Protocol.

“Russia will ratify the protocol if it is proved that it is in our interest–all Russian political leaders have said so,” Tsikanov asserted, saying the measure might be submitted to the Russian parliament for approval in 2004.

Some observers have attributed the disagreement to “electioneering,” coming just days before elections to Russia’s lower parliament house, held on December 7.

Illarionov “has said this before,” noted Henry Jacoby, an economist who heads the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program on climate change science and policy. “It is not clear this is a statement by the Russian government. I suspect it is high-level, bare-knuckle negotiating with Europe.”

Economic Growth and Kyoto

Putin has made economic growth a top priority for his administration, and top Russian officials have stated on several recent occasions that the country will not commit to policy proposals that will slow growth while the U.S. and other nations refuse or are not expected to do so.

Putin is not the only top government official to have such qualms about Kyoto. President George W. Bush rejected the Protocol in 2001 on similar grounds. And on December 2, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was asked by Labor Leader Mark Latham why the government failed to ratify the Protocol. According to reports in The Age, Melbourne’s daily newspaper, Howard said “I’m not going to a be party to something that destroys jobs and destroys the competitiveness of Australian industry.

“What the Labor Party wants us to do is to sign up to something that will place burdens on Australian industry, but not impose the same burdens on industries of other countries which could well be our competitors,” said Howard.

U.S. Experts Respond

“The Kyoto debate is just heating up in Russia,” noted David E. Wojick, a policy analyst who hosts, “with both pro-Kyoto and anti-Kyoto forces in high places. The contradictory statements that are coming out are not some bargaining ploy; they represent a real debate.

“The Russian case is very different from what we saw in Canada, in two respects,” Wojick told Environment & Climate News. “First, the science itself is being questioned. Second, Putin is taking a ‘show me’ stance.

“In Canada there was vigorous debate on cost but Chretien rammed ratification through for personal glory. That is not going to happen in Russia. Russia will, as both sides have said, act in its own interest. As of now that interest seems to favor rejection, because Putin wants economic restoration. But Russia never has to actually reject Kyoto, it can simply do nothing. On the other hand, if Russia can find a way to cash in on Kyoto ratification, it will do so.”

“Russian leaders want to restore their country to the ranks of a great power,” explained Marlo Lewis Jr., a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “They know from painful experience that bad economic policy can sweep even the world’s largest and most massively armed empire into the dustbin of history.

“To dig out from the rubble of communism,” Lewis told Environment & Climate News, “Russia must be free to develop, use, and market her energy resources. Andrei Illarionov hit the nail on the head when he said that ratifying Kyoto would doom Russia to ‘poverty, backwardness, and weakness.'”

Where Kyoto Stands

The Protocol is an amendment to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), more popularly known as the Rio Treaty. The Protocol goes into effect when no fewer than 55 parties to the UNFCCC accounting for at least 55 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions for 1990 have ratified, accepted, approved, or acceded to it.

According to the UNFCCC Web site (, as of November 26, 2003 120 countries accounting for 44.2 percent of global man-made carbon dioxide emissions had ratified the Protocol. While 15 countries ratified or acceded to the Protocol in 2003, only one–Switzerland–would be required to reduce emissions. Switzerland represents just 0.3 percent of emissions.

Diane Carol Bast is vice president of The Heartland Institute. Her email address is [email protected].