Ukraine is willing to assume more ambitious emissions reduction obligations, said the head of the Ukrainian delegation at the Durban climate talks, Nikolai Zlochevsky. Set against the background of other, less than comforting developments of the summit’s recently launched high-level segment, Ukraine’s statement surely came as an encouragement – even as it highlighted certain discrepancies that give one pause.

“Ukraine understands the limited effect of the Kyoto Protocol in its current format […but] despite this is willing to assume more ambitious quantified obligations under the second commitment period of the protocol, to demonstrate its commitment to the convention’s goals,” Ukraine’s statement said.

This is an example Russia would have been well served to follow. On Thursday, Russia reiterated its firm refusal to join the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, essentially suggesting nations should stop further negotiations on the issue and slashing all hopes for the protocol’s extension.

Ukraine sought to support its claim of commitment to climate goals by mentioning a range of government-backed renewable energy programs and the development of a low-carbon economy. It remains less clear just how the country’s path toward a low-carbon future should agree with Kiev’s decision to boost domestic coal consumption, one of the objectives stated in the current Ukrainian energy strategy. The two seem distinctly at odds with each other.

Zlochevsky also underscored that Ukraine is involved in half of all the international Joint Implementation projects. What looks to be a bit suspect here is that around half of these projects were only recently put together – hastily assembled, it would seem, in the course of the past three months. Ukraine set in motion more Joint Implementation projects last fall than it did in all of 2008. This invites the uncomfortable question of how bona fide these initiatives are and whether they do not just exist on paper only.

Ukraine’s chief negotiator also spoke in support of Russia’s proposal to keep their status of transition economy countries: “We believe the transition economy status should be preserved in the new agreement.” The very idea to revise the current lists of developed and developing nations as per the Kyoto Protocol’s Annexes I and II – Russia has earlier forwarded such a proposal – is a timely one. But the transition economy status also provides a convenient cover for countries that wish to use it to avoid involvement in international climate funds and to request financial aid on an equal basis with those that really need it. Shouldn’t it make more sense to stop focusing so much on the status – and suggest, instead, the development of a unified system of assessments that would help determine the actual status of a country and its place in the world community?

On the whole, Zlochevsky gave a convincing speech – if one somewhat at variance with Ukraine’s reputation in the climate process. Following a late August decision by the UNFCCC Compliance Committee, Ukraine was suspended from selling its carbon credits or participating in Joint Implementation projects. Experts with the UNFCCC enforcement branch found issues with Ukraine’s greenhouse gas reporting for 2008, noting, among other things, “insufficient transparency in the greenhouse gas emissions accounting system [and] gaps in accounting of emissions in the forestry and land use sector […].”

Now that the ambitious words have been spoken, specific figures are in order. The 20 percent cut in emissions Ukraine earlier promised by 2020 – compared to the current emissions level of 60 percent below the pre-industrial mark – would so far signify a considerable increase, rather than reduction.