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#16 - JRL 7258
The Independent (UK)
July 21, 2003
From the Cold War to the fight against global warming

BY A FLUKE of history, Russia has the chance to reverse the moral polarity of the Cold War. In the struggle to control global warming - the opposite of the "cold" war - Russia potentially holds the moral advantage.

If Russia ratified the Kyoto treaty, designed to restrain the pollution that causes world climate change, the agreement would at last - some six years after it was drawn up - come into effect.

That would be something of a hollow victory, as the biggest polluter, the United States, responsible for a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, repudiated the treaty two years ago. But the treaty still comes into effect if ratified by enough countries accounting for 55 per cent of world emissions. It just needs Russia to take it over that threshold.

And Russian ratification would provide the supporters of Kyoto with significant moral leverage. Already, President Bush feels under pressure on the issue, drafting a whole programme of research on the "hydrogen economy" into his State of the Union address at the start of this year. This is a distraction: hydrogen fuel-cell technology offers no prospect yet of replacing oil as a primary source of energy.

George Bush likes to portray himself as someone who understands political reality, and as more honest than Bill Clinton, who went along with Kyoto knowing that Congress would never buy it. Tony Blair even joked about it in his speech to the joint houses last week, mocking a European prime minister who had told Mr Bush the solution was simple: "Just double the tax on American gasoline."

Yet it is worth pondering what might have been, if Al Gore were in the White House now. And even more worthwhile to encourage the Russians to ratify the treaty.

Yet when Mr Blair and Mr Putin met to discuss energy policy last month, the Kyoto protocol was not even on the agenda. What makes this more curious is that Russia stands to benefit most from the system of credits set up by the treaty, under which high-polluting countries can pay low-polluting ones for the right to burn fossil fuels.

Mr Putin should take his chance.

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