Russia Ratifies the Kyoto Protocol
By S. Fred Singer
It ain't over till the fat lady sings
(Old Russian proverb)
After much flip-flopping that even a certain presidential candidate cannot match, the Russian cabinet has decided to submit the Kyoto Protocol for ratification. At least, that's what's been reported.
We shall have to see now what further economic and political concessions the Russian Duma can extract from the European Community in return. It is worth noting, however, that President Putin has labeled Kyoto to be "scientifically flawed" and that the Russian Academy of Sciences concluded that there is no scientific basis for the Protocol (RAS Council Statement of May 14, 2004). [See TWTW of August 7, 2004]
So, clearly, the motivation is not an altruistic desire to "save the global climate" (whatever that may mean) but a shrewd political and economic calculation, with rather short-term objectives. Because once Russia ratifies the Protocol, it will become legally binding on industrial nations (except the US and Australia, who have opted out so far), and Russia can start selling their unused emission credits to Europe -- as permitted under the Protocol's trading scheme.
There are still a few gambits that Russia might spring on the much-too-eager Europeans before ratification - like claiming credit for the absorption of carbon dioxide by the vast and growing Siberian forests. Another gambit may be to insist on a guaranteed minimum purchase of emission certificates.
But basically, Russia can look forward to getting something like an estimated $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 rising subsidies for "sustainable" wind energy and similar boondoggles.
The delicious irony in all this - never advertised but quite easily grasped - is that there will be 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 never signed Kyoto.
Not that this matters too much. It is useful to recall that even if Kyoto were to be punctiliously enforced - with no cheating and with no emission trading -- and if emissions were really to be reduced to 5% below the 1990 level, the calculated temperature effect would only be 0.05 degC by 2050 - and only 0.02 degC if the US does not ratify. These effects are so tiny, they aren't even detectable.
No wonder then -- as well understood by environmental groups but not widely broadcast - that Kyoto is only the 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.
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 US Senate voted unanimously against a Kyoto-like treaty in 1997 -- including Kerry -- there has been considerable erosion in this opposition. It is often claimed that Bush withdrew from Kyoto in 2001, but this is not true. It is worth noting that Clinton never submitted Kyoto for ratification from 1997 to 2000. Bush, of course, has announced a voluntary plan of reducing the emission of carbon dioxide as a percentage of rising GNP - essentially a program of increasing energy efficiency.
If the US should ratify Kyoto -- or if it adopts Kyoto unilaterally as demanded
by the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act -- there would be consequences.
It would greatly increase the worldwide demand for emission certificates --
and therefore the cost of compliance. As calculated by Yale economist Wm Nordhaus,
the per-capita cost for US consumers would be three times that of Europe's.
The obvious beneficiary would be Russia and the losers would be both European
and US industry and consumers.
I thank Benny Peiser (UK) and Peter Dietze (FGR) for sending me important inputs