Russia Makes Surprise CO2 Pledge At Summit

By Andrew Rettman

Russia made a surprise pledge to cut back on CO2 emissions at a summit with the EU in Sweden on Wednesday (18 November).

Russian diplomats said the country is ready to cut emissions by 20 to 25 percent below 1990s levels by 2020, up from a previous commitment of 10 to 15 percent.

The move, coming two weeks before the United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, falls slightly short of the EU target of 20 to 30 percent for developed countries. It also fails to clear up the issue of Russia's unused carbon credits, which could cause a crash on the carbon exchange market if Moscow cashes them in.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the CO2 decision. "We are currently negotiating among the world capitals," he said about pre-Copenhagen talks. "But you cannot negotiate with nature. You cannot negotiate with physics."

Mr Barroso re-iterated his support for Russia to join the WTO in order to increase confidence for Western investors and help remove protectionist obstacles to trade.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declined to rule out the possibility his country will try to join the free-trade bloc as a unit together with Belarus and Kazakhstan - a move that, experts say, could delay its membership by years and stall progress on a new EU-Russia bilateral treaty.

"In my opinion, both ways are possible," Mr Medvedev said regarding whether Russia will join alone or in the group of three. "For us the main thing is speed. Whatever way is faster we will take it."

The post-summit press conference was short on references to EU worries over human rights abuses in Russia and Russia's military presence in South Ossetia and Abkhazia in the wake of last year's war in Georgia.

The human rights situation is "an increasing cause for concern," Swedish premier Fredrik Reinfeldt said. Freedom for NGOs to flourish is "a yardstick of modern societies," Mr Barroso added.

For his part, Mr Medvedev brushed off the Georgia problem as "differences of opinion."

The Russian president remarked that the Stockholm meeting will be the last time the EU and Russia come together under the existing leadership format and wished the EU "every success" in its attempt to select a new president and foreign minister in Brussels on Thursday.

Sweden's Mr Reinfeldt explained that his job of co-ordinating EU member states' views on the subject, carried out under the auspices of the Swedish EU presidency, has not been easy.

"I've now been talking a full four working days, and some nights, with my colleagues," he said. "I don't know if you have tried this, but try to get in touch with 26 heads of state and government in 24 hours, and - good luck."

"Tonight I have one left and I have achieved my full second round," he added. "They are not of the same opinion, all of them."