Russia swings to openness on clean energy

MOSCOW Wed Jun 4, 2008 6:53pm IST

Smoke billows from the chimneys of a power station that produces heat and electricity in southern Moscow in this December 19, 2006 file picture. REUTERS/Alexander Natruskin/Files

Smoke billows from the chimneys of a power station that produces heat and electricity in southern Moscow in this December 19, 2006 file picture.

Credit: Reuters/Alexander Natruskin/Files

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia this week pledged budget funds for clean energy and called for limits on greenhouse gas emissions in a reversal of the country's earlier reluctance to embrace the Kyoto Protocol and energy efficiency.

"We must limit ourselves. We must limit any emissions that accelerate global warming or simply pollute the environment," Sergei Mironov, speaker of the upper house of parliament, told a conference on Wednesday.

His comments came a day after Russia's new president, Dmitry Medvedev, called an ad hoc meeting of top government officials to discuss clean and efficient energy, a theme he has driven to the foreground since coming to power in May.

"I cannot neglect the necessity of overhauling the system of ecological responsibility," Medvedev said on Tuesday, promising to earmark funds from the 2009-2011 budgets for green energy projects.

Mironov, addressing the annual 'Russia and the Kyoto Protocol' summit, became the first high-level official to depart from Russia's earlier stance of not accepting emissions cuts.

That position, voiced in April by the department in charge of Kyoto compliance, sparked fears Russia would pull out of the next round of the treaty, undermining its chances of success.

But on Wednesday Mironov said: "I am absolutely convinced that both the Kyoto Protocol and the post-Kyoto process are vitally important."

Russia was not obliged to reduce its emissions in the current round of the protocol, which lasts from 2008 to 2012, while most European nations agreed cuts of about 5 percent from 1990 levels.

But the next round of Kyoto, under negotiation to succeed the current treaty, is expected to be stricter with Russia. Some fear this might lead Russia, a vital Kyoto partner, to pull out of the process entirely.

TURNABOUT

Deputy Economy Minister Vsevolod Gavrilov, Russia's top Kyoto official, said in April that Moscow would not accept cuts for the "foreseeable future", arguing that the middle class and heavy industry needed to use energy freely.

Asked to respond to this position, Mironov, who outranks Gavrilov but is not directly responsible for Kyoto policy, took a more open stance and welcomed negotiations on the matter.

"Russia in the post-Kyoto period must provide for itself a fixed role in the emission of carbon," he said. "We should not be reckless in taking on these responsibilities."

Gavrilov -- who in March pledged to approach clean energy projects "from a principle of rejection" -- was not attending the conference.

For Mironov, who has been a vocal participant in debates over Kyoto, the comments were an about-face.

In his keynote speech at the same conference last year, he denied the existence of global warming, the basic assumption behind the Kyoto protocol, and said a process of global cooling is in fact taking place.

That speech contradicted the chorus of global experts who say that greenhouse gases are raising the world's average temperature, threatening ever more heatwaves, food shortages, floods, droughts and rising seas.

In this year's keynote address, Mironov urged the United States, China and India, which along with Russia are the world's top polluters, to join the fight against climate change.

"If America, China and India do not participate in the post-Kyoto process, it will simply not be effective," he said.

"Some countries will be trying not to pollute while others will be doing whatever they want. This would not be right and it would not be fair."

In another signal of changing attitudes toward the environment, Russia has named June 5 the day of the ecologist, which it will celebrate for the first time on Thursday.

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