Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What does Crimea mean to the future of climate change treaty negotiations?

Russia is rapidly becoming a pariah in part of the international community following its inclusion of Crimea within it's territories. The United States and the European Union notably have imposed several sanctions; more recently they agreed to oust Russia from the G-8, a powerful, if informal, economic coalition. Whether Russia's actions violate international law amd whether sanctions will be effective in persuading Russia to undo its deeds are important and significant questions. Much has been written, and will be written, on the issue.


I worry, however, about the impact of these developments on ongoing climate change negotiations. Those who remember the history of Kyoto Protocol's (the Protocol) will recall that Russia ratifiaction was pivotal for it's entry into force. At that point it was largely speculated that Russia joined the Protocol because of two reasons--1) The European Union made its support for Russia joining the World Trade Organization conditional on Russia accepting the Kyoto Protocol, and 2) that Russia was not required to reduce emissions below 1990 levels, because of its economic collapse, and therefore Russia had a significant advantage in participating in Kyoto Protocol's emissions trading scheme. (See e.g. then, however, Russia has turned away from the Kyoto Protocol. In 2012, it rejected the Protocol's second commitment period. At the COP meetings in Qatar, Russia with Belarus and Ukraine tried to retain the emission permits, effectively to continue increasing their emissions post-2015. When Russia was unsuccessful in getting all its viewpoints heard, the three countries objected to the procedure and threatened to oppose any 2015 framework that did not clarify the procedure.

The events unfolding in Ukraine may change it...for better of worse. If the new Ukrainian government refuses to cooperate with Russia, Russia will lose an ally in its climate change negotiations. Even so, it may not help resolve the problem of Russian isolation, unless all nations boycott oil from Russia; this is unlikely to happen. The biggest question is whether Russia, which has so far taken sanctions in its stride, may simply step out of the negotiations unless it has its way--which is unlikely given the general mood in the United States and the European Union. It is perhaps time to think what the Russia-Crimea issue means to climate change.



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