TCS Daily


Putin to Europe's Rescue

By Craig Winneker - February 9, 2004 12:00 AM

I try to picture myself as Vladimir Putin, listening intently in my Kremlin office while a slightly pudgy, decidedly bookish economics expert briefs me on carbon-dioxide emissions.

Clearly and methodically, he lays out the case for why the Russian Federation should not ratify the Kyoto Protocol mandating drastic cuts in CO2 emissions over the next several years. He has a PowerPoint presentation, with charts and graphs and statistical models, showing why the climate-change treaty is a bad idea, why it won't have any real effect on global warming, why it is far from certain to what extent humans are responsible for said warming, and why assuming so based on shaky science will cause devastating damage to the country's economy (as well as the rest of the world's). After about five minutes of this, I (as Putin) find myself thinking, "How much longer do I have to sit here and listen to this? It's winter. It's cold. Why am I not skiing?"

Putin may be famously inscrutable (to all except President Bush, who has looked within his soul), and his record on human rights and democracy may be a tad questionable, but he's certainly no fool. It wouldn't take him very long to see that ratifying Kyoto would be an economic disaster for Russia -- not to mention the rest of the developed and developing world. So why does Illarionov need his PowerPoint schtick and why is he taking it on the road? Because not everybody else is so quick to see reason.

Putin's economic adviser, who made world headlines in November when he proclaimed that Russia would not ratify Kyoto because the treaty would be devastating for economic growth, brought his laptop recently to Washington, where he calmly and systematically dismantled what remains of the case for the climate-change treaty.

Anyone who attended the UN's COP-9 meeting in Milan in December knows that the Kyoto Protocol is, for all intents and purposes, dead -- or at least on life-support. Russia's decision in the days leading up to that meeting was crucial in icing it. However, there are those who don't just think Kyoto is alive, they want to reanimate it into a bionic version. And while the US government is preoccupied with other things, it may be up to the Russians, of all people, to make the most effective case for why Kyoto is a bad deal for everyone. Book Illarionov a ticket to Brussels right away.

"The Kyoto Protocol is based on technological illusions." he says, pointing out that there is no correlation between rise in carbon emissions and rise in temperature. Even though he is an economist, he is armed with scientific data showing that fluctuations in temperature occur naturally over time. (He is also not afraid to point out that a little global warming would actually be good for Russia.)

Illarionov is not naïve. He knows there is a chance his government will cave to international pressure -- or be seduced by the incentives sure to be offered by the European Union in exchange for ratifying Kyoto. But his comments reassure that at least Moscow is doing something few other governments have had the guts to do in the face of the international Kyoto juggernaut: study the case on its merits.

"The decision that the Russian Federation is facing today is being based on careful analysis of all elements of the Kyoto Protocol," he says. "So far what we can see does not provide us with enough convincing evidence that would allow us to sign this document."

What might change their minds? Almost certainly not the science or the economics involved; those are nearly impossible to refute. However, Russia, like any other nation, will act in its self-interest, which may involve other factors, such as cold hard cash. Illarionov said EU diplomats in Moscow have been flashing some lately. One official, he said, told him that Brussels had earmarked €12 million for "facilitating" Russia's ratification of Kyoto and said more money would be available if it looks like Russia will ratify. "I'm still trying to figure out what the means," he winked.

Russia has been accused of playing games with Kyoto. Critics say it is holding out, essentially, for the best deal it can get under the emissions trading scheme (currently it wouldn't make very much as most of the European quotas would be usurped by EU and accession countries before Russia had a shot at them). And I wouldn't put it past Putin. It's a cynical view shared by many in the pro-Kyoto camp who insist that Moscow will eventually choose to ratify.

Still, judging from Illarionov's presentation in Washington, Putin and Co. may be the only folks who are taking a careful look at Kyoto and considering all of its effects. They have clearly decided the risks of not signing it do not outweigh the benefits.

But here's an even more cynical view: EU leaders claim Kyoto is not dead, and are pressuring Moscow to resurrect it. But individual European nations, looking for anything to spur growth, will actually thank Vladimir Putin for doing what they have not had the political will to do: killing Kyoto and resuscitating their economies.

The author is International Editor of TCS. He last wrote for TCS about science and government regulations in Europe.

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