Kyoto's Tipping Point

After more than a decade of diplomacy to create a global pact for reducing greenhouse gases, humanity will soon see if it can successfully reduce carbon dioxide emissions and curb its contribution to global warming.

Last week, the Russian government approved the Kyoto Protocol, allowing it to become legally binding by 2008 for nations that have ratified it. The pact takes effect only if approved by enough countries to account for at least 55 percent of the industrialized world's greenhouse gases in 1990.

With the United States Senate and the Bush administration opting out of Kyoto, the European Union had badly wanted Russia to join up to reach the pact's threshold. While many in Russia argued against the pact's long-term effects on the country's economy, President Vladimir Putin made the case that Russia might actually make money under the pact's provision that allows nations to sell "pollution credits" if they don't fill their quota of greenhouse gases. Since much of Russia's industry collapsed after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, it still falls below the 1990 thresholds.

But Mr. Putin also used Kyoto as a bargaining chip to win favorable terms from the EU as a step for it to enter the World Trade Organization. If Russia also wins a nod from the US and Japan and joins the WTO by 2006 as expected, the benefits of joining that global trading system would surpass potential losses from curbing emissions in the future.

Misgivings have arisen in the EU and Canada over the treaty's effect on their economies. Without the US on board, Kyoto might have little effect on climate change. Even then, some scientists doubt Kyoto's effectiveness. Still, the experiment will soon begin.

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