IT had been widely supposed that President Putin would use the occasion of a Moscow conference on climate change to announce Russia's formal ratification of the Kyoto treaty on global warming. But although he turned up to open the conference on Monday, he ducked the chance to ally Russia with Europe, Japan and many other countries which adopted the Kyoto agreement three years ago. Instead, he said that his government was closely studying the matter and believed that more scientific research into the actual degree of danger posed by global warming was needed. This is almost exactly the position that President Bush took in the first year of his presidency despite the fact that several reports by distinguished scientists had asserted that global warming is a reality and needs to be checked.
The Kyoto restrictions on the carbon emissions that cause global warming cannot be brought into effect until 55 per cent of the countries that cause most of them have signed the agreement. Since the United States and Australia have refused to participate, Russia's decision is critical. Fortunately, Mr Putin did not rule out Russia's eventual commitment to the Kyoto treaty but his delaying tactics are disappointing to the European Union in particular which had received assurances from Moscow that Russia was committed in principle and would make a decision in the near future. Whether Mr Putin genuinely believes the science is not reliable, or is taking his stance as a favour to President Bush, or is hoping to extract financial incentives from the EU for his agreement, is not clear. Meanwhile evidence of the reality of global warming is increasingly to be seen.