msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/21/2004 3:30:16 PM ET 2004-05-21T19:30:16

After months of hedging, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday came out in favor of rapid steps to approve an international treaty to combat global warming.

“We are in favor of the Kyoto process, we support it," Putin said at a news conference, referring to the 1997 protocol agreed to in Kyoto, Japan.

"We have a few worries about the obligations that we will have to take on,” he said, but added that “we will rapidly move toward ratification of this protocol.”

Those obligations revolve around emissions of carbon dioxide, a gas that's vital in maintaining the Earth's greenhouse effect but which also worries the vast majority of climate scientists, who fear increased emissions by mankind are warming the Earth. Factories, power plants and vehicles are key sources of manmade CO2, and many Putin advisers have said Russia's economic growth could be slowed by Kyoto.

The Bush administration has refused to endorse the treaty precisely for those reasons, with President Bush instead calling for public and private investments in technologies to reduce emissions.

Follows deal over WTO
In order to take effect, the treaty requires the backing of developed nations responsible for 55 percent of emissions of CO2 and other gases that impact the greenhouse effect protecting the Earth. So far, nations accounting for 44 percent have approved the treaty — meaning its future depends on Russia’s 17 percent since the United States has backed out.

Interactive: The greenhouse effect Even with Putin's endorsement, however, the treaty must still be formally approved by Russia's parliament.

Russia's leverage has allowed it to extract deals from other nations backing Kyoto, particularly those in Europe.

Indeed, Putin tied Kyoto to a deal Thursday in which the European Union endorsed Russia's entry into the World Trade Organization. 

“The fact that the EU has met us halfway in negotiations on the WTO (World Trade Organization) entry could not but have helped Moscow’s positive attitude to the question of ratifying the Kyoto protocol,” Putin said.

Would Kyoto make a difference?
While many climate scientists have urged governments to take mandatory steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, there's a strong feeling that Kyoto isn't enough to make a big difference.

Roger Pielke Jr., an environmental studies professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, cites projections that suggest meeting the Kyoto targets would have a small effect in limiting the growth of overall C02 emissions.

"Kyoto is a very small step, even if India and China were under Kyoto it would be a small step," he says. Developing countries like China and India are not required to reduce emissions under Kyoto, even though their economies, and emissions, are expected to see significant growth.

"Whether or not we do Kyoto, we still have a lot of work to do," he says. Symbolically, Kyoto may be important, he adds, but "more important is what we do after it."

Putin himself said as much last year, telling Russian students that “if everything that was written in the Kyoto protocol came into effect, it would not solve the problem.”

But, he added, "it is true, as my European colleagues say, that it is a step in the right direction.”

Reuters and MSNBC.com's Miguel Llanos contributed to this report.

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