Beyond Kyoto

Smoke billows from the Belchatow Power Station, Europe's largest coal-fired power plant, Poland, August 21, 2009. Peter Andrews / Reuters


In 1997, more than 180 countries gathered in Kyoto, Japan, in search of a coordinated international response to global warming. The provisional agreement they reached appeared to mark a significant step forward. But the Kyoto Protocol is coming unraveled. Despite nearly a decade of effort, it may not even enter into force as a binding instrument. Canada, Japan, and the European Union -- the most enthusiastic advocates of the Kyoto process -- are not on track to meet their commitments. And the United States has withdrawn from the agreement entirely. Those concerned with the sustainability of the earth's climate could be forgiven for feeling depressed.

Clear-eyed realism is essential. But dismay, however understandable, is a mistaken reaction. There is scope for a different and more positive view of the last seven years and of the future. First, it has become obvious that Kyoto was simply the starting point of

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