EVEN up to the last moment there were worries that the Russian Duma would find reasons to delay or vary endorsement of President Putin's decision to join the Kyoto climate change pact. But on Friday the vote by Russian MPs was 334 to 73 in favour and the environmental lobbying organisation Greenpeace was right to hail the outcome as the moment in history when humanity faced up to its responsibilities. Well, not quite right because the nation responsible for more than 25 per cent of the greenhouse gases that the Kyoto treaty is designed to control is the United States of America which still stands aloof from this international co-operation.
The importance of Russia's adherence to the pact cannot be overestimated. With America's continuing refusal to partipate, Russia is responsible for 17 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions; with Moscow on board the signatories to the pact, which crucially include all European Union members, now account for 61 per cent of the world's emissions. Not enough, perhaps, but enough to get some momentum behind implementation of the Kyoto controls which have been stalled for three years pending Russia's decision.
There is speculation about why Mr Putin decided to take this course, despite the opposition of his economic advisers. As for all other countries, the cost of implementing Kyoto will be considerable for Russia, but the general view is that he was persuaded to go ahead by the European Union's support for Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organisation, a development whose benefits could outweigh the economic burden of adhering to Kyoto climate control standards. As for the United States, Senator Kerry has said that, if elected, he would review its present refusal to join.