Putin throws weight behind Danish invitation to commit to emissions cuts prior to Copenhagen – with strings attached

frontpageingressimage_Putin-Rasmussen.jpg Photo: government.ru

Lars Loekke Rasmussen, his Danish counterpart, was in Moscow for a one-day working visit ahead of a major United Nations conference on climate change, to be held in Copenhagen on Dec. 7th to 18th. There, negotiators from 180 countries will discuss a new framework to replace Kyoto, which expires in 2012.

Putin, in his first extensive comments on the climate talks, said Russia was ready to support a deal to replace the Kyoto Protocol at next month’s United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.

“Are we ready to support Danish efforts to promote the ideas of the post-Kyoto period? Yes, we are,” Putin told reporters after the negotiations with Rasmussen.

But Putin, who many diplomats and citizens believe is the true ruler of Russia despite stepping down as Kremlin chief to become prime minister in May 2008, said two conditions had to be met for Russia’s support.

“The first one has a global character and means that all the countries, especially those that have the most emissions ­ the world’s largest economies ­ should sign this document, otherwise it makes no sense at all,” Putin told reporters in an apparent reference to the United States, which never ratified the protocol. Russia did, but not without considerable wrangling, and demands it be given World Trade Organisation membership in exchange for ratificaton.

Moscow’s second condition is that a deal in Copenhagen “will insist that the capabilities of (Russia’s) forests to absorb CO2 should be taken into account” by the new agreement.

Environmentalists said Putin’s demands were not a significant departure from the current emissions-reduction framework.

“One of the principles of the Kyoto Protocol allows donor countries, or those with major forest resources like Russia, to produce more carbon dioxide,” Mikhail Kreindlin, an analyst with Greenpeac Russia, told the Moscow Times.

“From an environmental point of view, it makes no difference which country produces more CO2 and which one less. We should reduce overall emissions and keep forests alive,” he said.

Russia has the largest forests in the world and says expanding forests means they help offset carbon dioxide emissions by other countries and should be taken into account when setting targets under a new deal.

"We’ve long known that Russia wants its forests included in a deal. But it’s not provided satisfactory data on deforestation and on forestry management," said Bill Hare, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Researchm, in remarks to Reuters,

"Russia contends that the overall amounts of carbon in forests has increased since 1990," he said.

The United Nations says just a few degrees change in the world’s climate could provoke floods, heatwaves, the extinction of animal species and the spread of diseases into new regions.

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen, speaking in an interview to Reuters, said he sees momentum for a deal next month and that he hoped to convince world leaders to attend the conference.

Russia’s emissions are now more than 30 percent below 1990, the year before the Soviet Union fell, ushering in nearly a decade of economic collapse with emissions bottoming out during 1998.

Putin, who once quipped that a climate change could be positive as Russians would have to buy fewer fur coats, said that Russia was sticking to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below the 1990 level.

World Bank researchers say that under current forecasts for temperature change Russia’s permafrost regions could partially melt and new pests could threaten the vast forests of Russia’s north, though warmer temperatures could help increase crop yields, Reuters said.

According to the World Bank, one of the easiest ways for Russia to cut emissions would be to reduce the vast amount of energy –  equal to France’s annual energy consumption – it wastes for heating, electricity production and industry.

Charles Digges