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Five years on the road from Kyoto to Copenhagen

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Today, on February 16, the Kyoto Protocol is marking an anniversary: five years since it officially came into force.

Today, on February 16, the Kyoto Protocol is marking an anniversary: five years since it officially came into force. This anti-global warming charter has seen many anniversaries. It was adopted in December 1997 in Kyoto (hence its name) and opened for signing in March 1998. The first steps towards its implementation were made on January 1, 2008.

Russia features prominently in the Kyoto Protocol's short (and far from remarkable) history. Although clearly the protocol could not have come into existence without Russia, its few supporters in the country had to spend many years fighting for it. During those years Andrei Illarionov, the former economic advisor to the then President Vladimir Putin was a staunch opponent of the protocol. However, the Duma and later on the Federation Council eventually ratified it in October 2004 and sent the document to the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Bonn. On February 16, 2005 it officially came into force.

In order to become reality the convention had to be ratified by the countries responsible for no less than 55% of all greenhouse emissions (mainly CO2). Before Russia joined the convention, this ratification quota was a little over 45%. Accounting for 17% of global emissions, we immediately transformed Kyoto into legal reality. We were even proud of this for some time until we sobered up.

The entire history of the Kyoto Protocol demonstrates a huge gap between its legal and practical aspects. By the end of 2009 it had been ratified by 181 countries. Under the protocol the European Union was supposed to reduce its CO2 emissions by 8% by 2012 (point of departure was the year 1990), Japan and Canada by 6%, while Russia and Ukraine were to maintain their emissions at the 1990 levels. The United States signed the protocol but refused to abide by it. Neither China nor India signed up to any obligations to reduce their CO2, methane or other emissions. Although Europe observed it, the protocol failed to impose global control over harmful industrial emissions into the atmosphere.

The most deplorable fact is that the gap between the letter of the protocol and its reality is widening. This became clear at the recent climate conference in Copenhagen (December 7-18, 2009) where its participants attempted to draft a successor to the Kyoto protocol. Apart from the usual squabbles and recalcitrance, the process saw provocations, false evidence, half-truths and pseudo scientific arguments. There was bribery, intrigue and idiocy. Minor mistakes made by some experts were exaggerated, taken out of context, and presented as evidence of inconsistency in the entire process and theory of global warming. Strange as it may seem, nobody refutes the reality of global warming as such.

Nobody knows where we go after Copenhagen. Nobody made any commitments there. All limits are voluntary and are dependent on so many factors that they may well end up being ignored. The next climate change conference will take place in Madrid in the fall.

Perhaps the Copenhagen conference would have been a global success if it had been chaired by good old storyteller Andersen. It showed that one, two (the Kyoto meeting in 1997) or even a dozen climate change conferences cannot resolve the main issue without divine insight, magic or devilry. All the human race's efforts to save the climate founder on this problem: how to switch from fossil fuels to environmentally safe sources of energy.

This will not happen overnight. Humanity has never attempted such a biblical change and there is no evidence that we are ready for it. If it is to be achieved it requires the destruction of the very foundation of the global economy, not to mention curing a couple billion consumers (that is, voters) of their extravagant energy consumption. For any politician this goal is not altruistic but suicidal.

As for Russia, it only gained from Copenhagen's incompleteness (aren't we lucky?). On the eve of it, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published a forecast of tentative changes in the structure and scale of gas consumption in Europe until 2020. IEA experts concluded that if a post-Kyoto protocol (a new document restricting air pollution) were signed in Copenhagen, Russia would have to tighten its gas valve, and its South and North Stream projects would become problematic.

In IEA opinion, under the post-Kyoto protocol, Russia will be able to supply Europe with 180 billion cubic meters of gas by 2020 and gas consumption in Europe will grow by 37%. If the protocol were not signed, the EU's gas appetite would grow by 67% and Russian gas supplies would rise to 240 billion cubic meters. The difference in the scale of consumption is calculated based on Europe's potential introduction of energy conservation technology, higher efficiency in the energy industry and the development of the nuclear power industry.

Gazprom is planning to increase its gas exports to Europe up to 170 billion cubic meters in 2012. In 2010, it will supply Europe with 160 billion cubic meters of gas. Since Copenhagen did not produce any binding post-Kyoto document, the IEA's second prediction is likely to become reality.

What is better: yesterday's Kyoto protocol or Copenhagen today and tomorrow? It seems best to start from scratch and make a more concerted and serious effort. Politics should be removed from climate conferences; UN experts should be more thorough in their reports and scientists should be more open in their publications. The media should be more honest and less corrupt. Everything has to improve. Otherwise, in 25-50 years we will all be uncomfortable.

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Fedyashin) 

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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