David W. Cerny / Reuters Greenpeace activists display a banner near a coal mine to commemorate the second anniversary of the Kyoto protocol in Most, Czech Republic, February 15, 2007.

Kyoto's Unfinished Business


Even well-informed observers disagree about what the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change will accomplish. Some gaze at its text and see a battle won. They cheer the fact that the generally richer nations participating in the protocol agreed to cut their collective emissions of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming to about five percent less than 1990 levels by early in the next century. These optimists also applaud features of the Kyoto accord designed to hold down the costs of achieving these reductions. In computing their emissions, nations can include changes in the six major greenhouse gases emitted because of human activity, not just carbon dioxide, the most important of the six. In addition, countries can factor in reduced carbon dioxide levels from changes in land use and new forestry techniques that take the gas out of the atmosphere. Groups of participating nations may comply jointly and reallocate commitments among themselves, as the European Union (EU) plans to do within a European "bubble," and there is agreement in principle to some form of emissions trading. Joint implementation, under which agents in one country can get credit for reductions they achieve in another, is to be permitted between participating nations, and a new Clean Development Mechanism will provide access to these opportunities in nonparticipating countries, mainly in the developing world. Finally, emissions targets are not rigidly tied to a single year, but to averages over a five-year "commitment period" from 2008 to 2012.

Pessimists, on the other hand, see Kyoto as a costly defeat. They note that there is no solid proof that human-induced climate change will occur or that its adverse effects would be serious were it to happen. At the same time, the expense of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Kyoto targets will be substantial, and pessimists believe that the effort will make participating countries less competitive. In the darkest interpretation, the Kyoto agreement is a pact among rich nations that will cripple

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