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Kyoto ratified

After a decade of negotiations, the Kyoto global climate change treaty is set to go into effect Feb. 16. But last December in Buenos Aires, the 10th U.N. Conference on Climate Change highlighted the possibility that Kyoto will remain relatively ineffectual on a global scale.

With Russia’s approval last fall, the Kyoto Protocol reached its ratification requirement, which set in motion the treaty’s imminent enforcement in the European Union and elsewhere. Nevertheless, India, China and Saudi Arabia still have declined to sign, and developing countries are not included in the treaty’s requirements. The United States pulled out of the treaty in 2001.

Without participation of those developed countries, which produce the majority of potentially climate-changing pollutants, and developing countries, environmental groups and others point out that Kyoto probably will have little impact. They also argue that its regulations are not stringent enough. Also, if China, India and the United States follow through with current plans to construct several hundred coal-fired power plants, they may “swamp” Kyoto countries’ targeted carbon dioxide emissions cuts by 2012, according to an analysis by the Christian Science Monitor.

Continued U.S. inaction may end up with high political costs, says Nigel Purvis of the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C. Kyoto “is not that environmentally important, but it is politically important,” he says, because the European Union and other countries “are making decisions without us.” European trade policies may shift to tax the United States and other countries that do not comply with “climate-change costs,” he notes.

At the end of the Buenos Aires convention in December, the United States cautiously agreed to meet for a series of nonbinding “symposiums” this year with European Union countries, even though it seems unlikely that the Bush administration will reconsider its position on the treaty. The meeting ended without consensus from ratifying countries on what will happen after Kyoto runs out in 2012.

Naomi Lubick

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