15% of Environment in Russia Fails to Meet Admissible Norms

From the Cold War to the Fight againstGlobal Warming

The Independent, 21 July 2003


By a fluke of history, Russia has thechance to reverse the moral polarity of the Cold War. In the struggle to controlglobal warming – the opposite of the “cold” war – Russia potentiallyholds the moral advantage.

If Russia ratified the Kyoto treaty,designed to restrain the pollution that causes world climate change, theagreement would at last – some six years after it was drawn up – come intoeffect. That would be something of a hollow victory, as the biggest polluter,the United States, responsible for a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxideemissions, repudiated the treaty two years ago. But the treaty still comes intoeffect if ratified by enough countries accounting for 55 per cent of worldemissions. It just needs Russia to take it over that threshold.

And Russian ratification would providethe supporters of Kyoto with significant moral leverage. Already, President Bushfeels under pressure on the issue, drafting a whole programme of research on the”hydrogen economy” into his State of the Union address at the start ofthis year. This is a distraction: hydrogen fuel-cell technology offers noprospect yet of replacing oil as a primary source of energy.

George Bush likes to portray himself assomeone who understands political reality, and as more honest than Bill Clinton,who went along with Kyoto knowing that Congress would never buy it. Tony Blaireven joked about it in his speech to the joint houses last week, mocking aEuropean prime minister who had told Mr Bush the solution was simple: “Justdouble the tax on American gasoline.”

Yet it is worth pondering what mighthave been, if Al Gore were in the White House now. And even more worthwhile toencourage the Russians to ratify the treaty.

Yet when Mr Blair and Mr Putin met todiscuss energy policy last month, the Kyoto protocol was not even on the agenda.What makes this more curious is that Russia stands to benefit most from thesystem of credits set up by the treaty, under which high-polluting countries canpay low-polluting ones for the right to burn fossil fuels. Mr Putin should take his chance.


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