Russia faces cold front at climate talks

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Series Details Vol.7, No.39, 25.10.01, p3
Publication Date 25/10/2001
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Date: 25/10/01

By Laurence Frost

THE EU has moved to sideline the chief Russian negotiator at next week's COP7 climate conference in Marrakech, after it emerged that his delegation is seeking to undo July's breakthrough Bonn agreement to implement the Kyoto Protocol.

Belgium, which currently holds the EU's presidency, has asked Russia to increase the seniority of its delegation, currently led by the country's head of its weather forecasting service, Alexander Bedritsky. Energy minister Olivier Deleuze urged deputy premier Viktor Khristenko to attend the talks when the Russian minister accompanied President Vladimir Putin to the EU-Russia summit in Brussels earlier this month. "I can confirm that he asked him to have a higher level from the Russian side during the negotiations at Marrakech," Deleuze's spokesman said. The request marks a significant break with diplomatic protocol, which normally bars criticism of other countries' representation. German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has also written to Putin since the summit to ask for his support during the conference.

The EU appeal comes after the Russian delegation made formal demands for a weakening of the commitments agreed in Bonn. In a letter to the conference secretariat, Russia said it wants to double its use of forestry, or carbon 'sinks', as a substitute for real cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Under the compromise hammered out in July, countries are allowed to count limited quantities of the carbon dioxide absorbed by forests towards their targets - reducing the amount of emissions actually cut. Russia wants to increase its allowance to 33 million tonnes of the gas from the 17 million already agreed. "That would be a disaster," said Stephan Singer, climate specialist at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). "It would start a process where other countries might want changes - that would put the Bonn agreement in question." Pia Ahrenkilde, spokeswoman for environment chief Margot Wallström, said she could not comment on Russia's representation at the conference.

But she stressed: "There's no question of going back on parts of the deal made in Bonn or reopening negotiations on issues already agreed there." Officials privately blame Bedritsky for Russia's latest demands, which they say are out of tune with positive signals from both Putin and Khristenko. "Bedritsky's the one who is hooked up on sinks," said one. After a deal was agreed in Bonn, the former Soviet apparatchik delayed the signing ceremony, complaining that his delegation could not understand the English text.

Although Khristenko was formally in charge of the delegation, he stayed away from ministerial sessions in Bonn, leaving the talks to Bedritsky, who is said to have a stormy relationship with chairman Jan Pronk. At one point he left a negotiating session, slamming the door behind him.

The Marrakech talks are intended to flesh out the technical details of the Bonn agreement, including a system to ensure countries keep to their pledged emissions cuts and protect the planned emissions trading system from fraud. Japan, Australia and Canada are resistant to the EU's proposals for a strict 'compliance system' including independent monitoring of countries' performances. Remaining differences have to be ironed out in Marrakech if Kyoto is to be in force by 2002 as planned. The EU took a step closer to implementing Kyoto this week when the Commission tabled proposals for ratification of the treaty, due to be discussed by environment ministers in Luxembourg on Monday.

Kyoto will enter into force once ratified by 55 countries accounting for 55 per cent of world CO2 emissions. Romania is so far the only industrialised nation to have ratified the protocol.

The EU has moved to sideline the chief Russian negotiator at the forthcoming COP7 climate conference in Marrakech, after it emerged that his delegation is seeking to undo the breakthrough Bonn agreement to implement the Kyoto Protocol reached in July 2001.

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