Potemkin Protocol http://www.techcentralstation.com/102204K.html By James K. Glassman Published 10/22/2004 After years of teasing, Russia's lower house today finally ratified the Kyoto Protocol. With approval by the upper house and President Vladimir Putin virtually certain, the treaty -- which requires deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries -- now has the requisite support to go into effect -- even without the backing of the United States and Australia. Margot Wallstrom, the European Union's commissioner for the environment, broke out a bottle of champagne, and, continuing with the alcoholic theme, Greenpeace International's website shouted, "Vodka today!" But not so fast. Any realistic appraisal has to see the Russian decision as merely an exercise in cynicism and sleight of hand. At least for the next several years, Russia will not be cutting its emissions, but more likely increasing them. The entire episode is like a tawdry play. The Russians go through the motions and get paid off by the Europeans, who are trying to embarrass the United States, which almost certainly will not alter its opposition to the costly and inept treaty. In fact, what's remarkable about today's decision by the Russians is that it took so long. The Kyoto Protocol was written by the Europeans to bribe the Russians into approval. But Vladimir Putin resisted until he got a rich deal. Apparently, the final enticement was the offer by the EU in May to back Russia's entry to the World Trade Organization in return for ratification of Kyoto. Kyoto, which was drawn up in 1997, requires developed nations to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, mainly carbon dioxide, by 5 percent below 1990 levels. In order to meet the goal by the target date of 2012, these countries will have to enforce severe cuts in the use of fossil fuels, causing a decline in economic growth estimated at between 1 percent and 3 percent annually. But Russia, at least for the near future, will be making no cuts at all. Mainly because of a slide in its economy since 1990, the country is well below its emissions target under Kyoto. As a result, it is likely that Europeans will pay Russia to count Russian reductions as a way of meeting European goals, a process known as emissions trading. Russia's emissions will rise as its economy grows by an estimated 7 percent a year, according to the estimates of Andrei Illarionov, Putin's top economic advisor. That's about four times as fast as Europe is growing. Within a few years, Russia will probably breach its target, but, meanwhile, it will be collecting cash. Why, then, were Europeans so eager to get Russia to ratify when the move will only cost them money? Because EU officials think Russia's ratification will shame the United States into taking the same step. Vice President Al Gore signed the Kyoto Protocol seven years ago, against the express wishes of a unanimous U.S. Senate. President Clinton never submitted the treaty for approval, and shortly after he took office, President Bush rejected it as "fatally flawed." Even the 2004 Democratic Party platform dropped all references to Kyoto, and John Kerry has criticized the treaty. But immediately after the vote by Russia's legislature, or Duma, European Commission chief Romano Prodi was prodding the U.S. "We hope that the United States will now reconsider its position," he said. The extremists at Greenpeace were more blunt. In language that, appropriately, mimicked that of the old Soviet bosses, Greenpeace's Steve Sawyer said, "This is a major defeat for President Bush and his paymasters in the fossil fuel industry. His administration and other climate criminals have failed in their attempt to wreck Kyoto." In fact, it's doubtful that the Russian action will have any effect at all, either on the climate or on the U.S. position toward Kyoto. American legislators, as well as President Bush, remain staunch opponents of Kyoto because of the economic damage it will cause and because developing countries, whose emissions exceed those of industrial countries, are exempt from the treaty's emissions-reduction requirements. In addition, the treaty was written to make it easier for Europe to comply than for the United States, putting the U.S. at an economic advantage. But, for all its bluster, Europe isn't complying anyway. According to a German think thank, 11 of the 15 "old" members of the EU are missing their emissions targets, and, overall emissions in Europe rose last year by 2 percent. Meanwhile, new research is casting doubt on climate-change assertions deeply cherished by radical environmentalists, including the "hockey stick" -- the contention that temperatures are sharply rising in an unprecedented way. Climate models are under attack, and new credence has been gained for the theory that changes in solar output are responsible for much of the rise in surface temperatures during the 20th century. If Russia ratifies, it will be the 30th developed country to do so. About 85 percent of the world's nations, with about three-quarters of the world's population, do not have to cut emissions under Kyoto. That includes China, which currently accounts for more than one-eighth of the world emissions. To go into effect, the protocol has to be approved by developed countries whose emissions comprise at least 55 percent of their own group's total. The U.S. accounts for 36 percent of all developed-country emissions; Russia, 17 percent. While Russia will not have to reduce emissions in the next few years, if its economy keeps growing, it will exceed the Kyoto targets shortly before the treaty expires. The Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which holds its next big meeting in December in Buenos Aires, said in a press release that the first "target period  is only a first step." It remains to be seen whether Russia will sign on for further cuts after 2012. That seems dubious since reductions in emissions can only be through reductions in energy use, which will result in slower economic growth -- and, for some countries, outright recession. As a poor but fast-growing country, Russia can't afford to cut its use of energy -- which provides enormous leverage for economic progress. That's why today's Duma vote is seen by realistic analysts as a sham -- or, in the Russian metaphor, as a Potemkin Village, a stage setting for a phony drama.