Global environmental challenges
Kyoto Protocol not the economic millstone Russia (and others) feared?
In 2004, an economic adviser to former Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the U.N.’s Kyoto Protocol for reining in global warming would kill off the world economy like “an international Auschwitz”.
Jewish groups deplored the remarks by Andrei Illarionov (left side of photo, with Putin) as trivialising the Holocaust. And his fears seem far from justified — in 2007, the Russian economy grew by 8.1 percent and greenhouse gas emissions by just 0.3 percent. (For a story, click here).
Putin went on to defy his advice — Moscow ratified the Kyoto pact and Russia’s “Yes” gave Kyoto enough international backing weight to enter into force in 2005, setting caps on greenhouse gas emissions for industrialised nations until 2012. In the United States, former President George W. Bush’s administration did not sign up, describing Kyoto as an “economic straitjacket”.
I went to a 2003 “World Climate Change Conference” in Moscow at which Illarionov also denounced Kyoto (he was a cheerleader against Kyoto, getting more strident each time). He showed graphs projecting that Russia’s emissions would surge in coming years and explained it would be impossible to have strong economic growth and keep emissions down.
Yet after a decade or stellar economic growth, Russia’s greenhouse gas emissions are just 11 percent up from a low in 1998 and still 33.94 percent below levels in 1990, the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union and its smokestack industries.
And analysts say there is still huge room for energy efficiency in Russia to cut emissions (and save money), even as it faces recession in 2009 as part of the global downturn.
Maybe Russia’s emissions data from recent years are misleadingly good — rising energy export prices during most of the period until 2008 were a gigantic windfall boosting economic growth but not emissions?
And maybe Kyoto is having little economic impact in industrialised countries because a lot of them are way over their goals, ignoring tough action on cuts while talking piously about their commitment to fight warming.
But overall, is Kyoto far less of an economic millstone than its opponents feared?
(Photo above: Smoke billow from chimneys of a power station that is attached to the Zlatoust steel mill in the Ural town of Zlatoust March 14, 2009. Reuters/Thomas Peter)