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The Climate of a Post-Kyoto World

While signatory nations and environmentalists hail the recent ratification of the international Kyoto Protocol on global warming, many are now looking forward and assessing the next steps necessary to further combat and curtail climate change.

"Kyoto coming into force is a positive step," said Jonathan Pershing, director of the Climate and Energy Program at World Resources Institute (WRI) and a former key U.S. negotiator for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Kyoto Protocol. "It makes clear that the world takes the global warming problem seriously, and establishes a framework for addressing it."

The Kyoto Protocol, an outgrowth of the UNFCCC, was agreed to by a wide range of nations in 1997. Ratified by 141 nations, the landmark treaty committed industrialized nations to limit or reduce their GHG emissions to below 1990 levels. The treaty came into force on February 16, with official ratification by Russia. The U.S. is not a signatory to this treaty.

While the treaty marks an enormous first step in the effort to curb climate change, many experts are concerned about the future of the complex international negotiations. At a recent seminar at Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, a variety of speakers with intimate experience in the process described the difficulties that lie ahead.

Restrictions on GHG emissions set by the Kyoto Protocol are due to be lifted in 2012, and reluctance on behalf of the signatory nations to extend the emissions reductions targets is forcing those dedicated to the stemming global warming to look elsewhere.

Senator John F. Kerry (D-MA), the most recent Democratic nominee for President, spoke at the seminar and relayed his fears regarding the future of climate change policy. "The diplomatic issue is no longer Kyoto yes-or-no," said Kerry.

"The world understands that we actually need to move beyond Kyoto. Kyoto is limited in time and participation, and it may well be limited in its success. A number of proposals have been put on the international table, from a G-8 program to promote renewable energy and technology funding to development aid to the UNFCCC," Kerry said. "But what we need now is leadership that engages the developing world. No climate change program can work without the less-developed nations being part of it."

While the Kyoto Protocol exempted developing nations from hard caps on GHG emissions, Sen. Kerry and others in attendance at the seminar emphasized the importance of including developing nations in future climate negotiations.

It is clear that while the Kyoto Protocol represents great progress in the battle against global warming, strategies and processes will need to be reevaluated and enhanced for the next round of international climate policy negotiations.

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