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The Russian government has approved the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, which sets formal targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and sent it to the country's parliament for ratification.

To become binding, the protocol requires ratification by 55 per cent of signatories, including countries that account for 55 per cent of developed countries' emissions. If — as is widely expected — the Russian parliament gives its approval, the treaty will come into force 90 days after Russia's instrument of ratification is received by the United Nations in New York.

Describing the news as "an inspiring signal to the international community," Joke Waller-Hunter, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change said in a press release that Russian ratification would re-energise international cooperation on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The protocol will bind 36 industrialised nations to reduce emissions of the so-called greenhouse gases, which many scientists consider responsible for global warming and climate change.

The treaty also has significant implications for developing countries. Although they will not be required to reduce emissions towards specific targets, they will be required to act to limit production of greenhouse gases.

Among the features of the protocol is the encouragement of international cooperation. The 'clean development mechanism', for example, will encourage rich countries to finance projects that reduce emissions in poor countries in return for credit against their own emissions targets.

Developing nations can also benefit from the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund, which they can use to pay for measures to anticipate and protect themselves from negative impacts of climate change.

"It's the step we've all been waiting for," says Crispian Olver, director-general of South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs And Tourism. "From food security to health we see climate change as a very big threat right across Africa, so the decision is very good news for us."

As the Russian parliament is dominated by Putin's United Russia party and approves nearly all bills backed by the president, it is expected to endorse the treaty in the coming weeks.

The move isolates Australia and the United States — both of which oppose the protocol — and has major political implications for Russia, bringing the country closer to Europe and smoothing its entry into the World Trade Organisation.

Governments will next discuss their Kyoto targets at a major conference in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 6 - 17 December. Klaus Toepfer, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said in a statement yesterday (30 September) that those negotiations "must ensure that developed nations meet their initial emission reduction targets while ensuring sufficient funds are made available to developing countries to allow them to reduce their vulnerability to global warming".