Environtmental update - June 2004

June 01, 2004 | By Keith Martin in Washington, DC

Kyoto Protocol

The news in late May that Russia will ratify the Kyoto protocol means that power companies operating in countries outside the United States will have to take steps to limit carbon dioxide.

Russian President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced on May 21 that Russia would move rapidly to ratify the protocol. The protocol to the “United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change” was adopted in 1997 and sets deadlines for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first compliance period is 2008 to 2012.

Just last December, a senior aide to Putin said Russia would not ratify the Kyoto protocol in its current form because the treaty would hamper economic growth in Russia. Russia’s abrupt turnaround may have been driven by concessions that Russia received from the European Union, including an invitation to join the World Trade Organization and an agreement to allow gas prices paid to Russian producers to double by 2010.

The Kyoto protocol will enter into force after it has been ratified by 55 or more countries whose combined emissions levels represent at least 55% of the carbon dioxide or CO2 emissions from industrialized Annex I countries in 1990. As of April 15, 2004, 122 nations had ratified the treaty, and those nations accounted for 44.2% of the 1990 CO2 emissions. Russia alone accounts for 17.4% of the 1990 CO2 emissions. The United States has rejected the treaty citing serious concerns about the potential effect of implementing dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions on the US economy and asserting that large developing countries, such as China and India, should also be obligated to cut greenhouse gas emissions if the US is expected to do so.

Notwithstanding the Bush administration’s objections to implementing mandatory greenhouse gas emission reductions, state governments in the United States are pressing forward with their own efforts to address climate change issues on a statewide or regional basis. In May, the Connecticut legislature passed legislation that calls for the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by January 1, 2010, and 10% below the 1990 levels by January 1, 2020. The Connecticut legislation also requires the state Department of Environmental Protection to report annually on the progress toward achieving the mandated reductions. The measure had not yet been signed into law by the Connecticut governor as the NewsWire went to press.

Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney released a comprehensive climate change protection plan in May that calls for the same levels of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as Connecticut. The plan urges all sectors to partner with the state in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. The plan calls for a further 10%reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 to be achieved through strict standards for coal-fired plants, the promotion of renewable energy, increased energy efficiency and cleaner burning vehicles. The Connecticut and Massachusetts efforts follow up on a regional commitment that the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers adopted in August 2001 to address greenhouse gas emissions.

In related news, the European Commission recently warned several European Union countries that they could