Russian Parliament OKs Kyoto Protocol

Published November 1, 2004

Russia’s upper house of parliament voted 139-1, with one abstention, on October 26 to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. The lower house, the State Duma, had approved the measure four days earlier by a 334-73 vote. The protocol now requires the signature of President Vladimir Putin.

$15 Billion Per Year Prize

Putin has called Kyoto “scientifically flawed” and the Russian Academy of Sciences concluded there is no scientific basis for the protocol. The motivation to approve the treaty, then, is not an altruistic desire to “save the global climate” (whatever that may mean), but instead a shrewd political and economic calculation, with rather short-term objectives. Assuming Putin signs the protocol, it becomes legally binding on the industrial nations (except the United States and Australia, who have opted out), and Russia can start selling its unused emission credits to Europe, as permitted under the protocol’s trading scheme.

Russia can look forward to getting something like $5 billion per year. This income transfer will be from European ratepayers–households and industries that consume electricity–all on top of rising ecotaxes and increasing subsidies for “sustainable” wind energy and similar boondoggles, in Europe and other nations with modern economies.

No Climate Benefit

The delicious irony in all this–never advertised but quite easily grasped–is that this scheme will bring no benefits whatsoever to the atmosphere or the climate. As long as Europe and Japan buy sufficient unused emission rights, their emissions can continue to grow–as if they had never signed Kyoto.

Not that this matters too much. Even if Kyoto were punctiliously enforced–with no cheating and no emission trading–and if emissions by industrialized countries were really reduced to 5 percent below the 1990 level, the calculated temperature effect would only be 0.05ºC by 2050–and only 0.02ºC if the United States does not ratify. These effects are so tiny they would not even be detectable.

No wonder, then, that advocates of Kyoto view it as only a small first step. It would take an emission cut of 60 to 80 percent below 1990 levels by all nations–industrial and developing–to stabilize the greenhouse-gas content of the atmosphere. The blueprint for this remarkable extension to Kyoto will be discussed at the 10th Conference of the Parties in Buenos Aires in December 2004.

Compliance Costly for U.S.

If Kyoto really goes into effect, say by early 2005, the world will divide into two camps. There will be tremendous pressure on the United States to adopt the protocol. If Bush is re-elected, this pressure may not produce any results, although Tony Blair will try to twist his arm in various ways. If Kerry is elected, we cannot be sure of the outcome. Even though the U.S. Senate voted unanimously–including Kerry–against a Kyoto-like treaty in 1997, there has been considerable erosion in this opposition.

Kyoto supporters have often claimed Bush withdrew from Kyoto in 2001, but that is not true. Clinton never submitted Kyoto for ratification during his second term. Bush has announced a voluntary plan for reducing carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GNP–essentially a program encouraging energy efficiency.

If the U.S. should ratify Kyoto–or if it adopted Kyoto unilaterally as demanded by the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act–there would be great consequences. U.S. involvement would greatly increase the worldwide demand for emission certificates, and therefore the cost of compliance. As calculated by Yale economist William Nordhaus, the per-capita cost for U.S. consumers would be three times that of Europe’s. The obvious beneficiary would be Russia, and the losers would be both European and U.S. industry and consumers.

S. Fred Singer ([email protected]) is president of the Science & Environmental Policy Project. Dr. Singer is also a distinguished research professor at George Mason University and professor emeritus of environmental science at the University of Virginia.