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The US withdrawal from international negotiations over carbon emissions last year dealt a blow to the Kyoto Protocol that many thought would be fatal. A year on, however, Russia - which is expected to ratify the Protocol later this year - has emerged as an unlikely saviour.

Russia accounted for 17 per cent of carbon emissions in 1990; its ratification could tip the treaty over one of its thresholds for implementation - that it is ratified by enough industrialised nations to account for 55 per cent of carbon emissions in 1990.

The country stands to earn tens of billions of dollars through the treaty because of a drop in its carbon emissions - the result of an economic downturn that has seen the closure of factories and the decline in agriculture - which would give it a near monopoly on emissions credits, which could be sold to countries whose emissions had increased since 1990.

But some doubt the accuracy of Russia's emissions inventories, which, in four years' time, will be open to international scrutiny by the other Kyoto signatories. If Russia can't prove its claimed reduction in emissions, these nations are unlikely to let the country cash in on Kyoto.

Reference: Science 296, 2129 (2002)

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