April 30, 2008 / 11:41 AM / in 12 years

Russian climate plans show tough path to U.N. treaty

OSLO (Reuters) - Russia’s opposition to new cuts in greenhouse gases means all of the world’s top four emitters are against making quick reductions, complicating plans for a new U.N. climate treaty by the end of 2009.

Smoke is emitted from a factory at Keihin industrial zone in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo in this March 16, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon

“The positions ... are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems ahead,” said Bill Hare, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. The United States, China, Russia and India are the top emitters.

The U.N. Climate Panel said last year that world emissions of heat-trapping gases, mainly from burning fossil fuels, will have to peak within the next 10 to 15 years to avoid the worst impacts of droughts, floods, heat waves and rising seas.

Russian officials said on Monday that Moscow would not accept new binding caps on emissions under a new climate deal to succeed the existing Kyoto Protocol beyond 2013. The treaty is due to be agreed at a meeting in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

“We hope that reason prevails,” said Barbara Helfferich, a spokeswoman for the European Union’s executive Commission. The EU plans greenhouse gas cuts of 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, and of 30 percent if other developed nations agree.

“Climate change needs to be fought globally. We need everybody on board and we regret the fact that any country would preclude any binding commitment at this stage,” she said.

U.S. President George W. Bush announced on April 16 that U.S. emissions would peak in 2025, setting a cap for a first time but criticized by some allies as too far in the future.


China and India, whose per capita emissions are a fraction of those of the United States, say they will slow the rise of emissions but that they need to use more energy to end poverty.

The most stringent U.N. scenarios indicate industrialized nations should lead the way with deep cuts in emissions — to 25-40 percent below 1990 levels — by 2020.

Vsevolod Gavrilov, the official in charge of Russia’s Kyoto obligations, said Moscow would oppose cuts for the “foreseeable future”, arguing that the emerging middle class and industry needed to use more energy.

But a lot will change before a new climate treaty is due to be agreed in Copenhagen, led by the November 2008 election of a new U.S. president. Bush’s likely successors — Republican candidate John McCain or Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton — all favor tougher caps.

Analysts say Moscow’s position may be an opening salvo. “You have to take the Russian position with a pinch of salt,” said Nick Mabey, head of London-based environmental think-tank E3G.

“They have a falling population so the pressure on emissions is much lower than in the United States where population is rising,” he said. “And the Russians still have a lot of potential for energy savings.”

Russian emissions were 2.13 billion tonnes in 2005, 28.7 percent below the Kyoto baseline of 1990, just before the Soviet Union and its smokestack industries collapsed, but up from a 1998 low of 2.0 billion, reflecting Russia’s economic revival.

Under Kyoto, Russia’s goal is merely for emissions to stay below 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012.

Hare said Russia had sent “discordant messages” at every stage — before ratifying Kyoto, President Vladimir Putin mused in 2002 that warmer winters might have benefits, for instance less need for fur coats.

“In my experience Russian negotiators want to be good global citizens and that is something we can work with,” he said.

“We must wait for a new administration and Congress before we see what the United States is ready to meaningfully discuss ... No one expects China, or less India, to take on binding national caps.”

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Editing by Catherine Evans

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