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Reversing the Trend

Negotiations began in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009 to formulate a successor to the current treaty on climate change, the Kyoto Protocol.

The Kyoto Protocol went into full force in 2005. It set binding limits on CO2 emissions for some countries. Thirty-five industrialized nations agreed to cut their emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. The Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012.

Formal discussions of a successor to the Kyoto Protocol began in Bali in December 2007. Countries have been in “full negotiating mode” since December 2008. The negotiations hold both promise and apprehension.

One promising sign: the United States is back as an engaged participant. In 2001, the Bush administration withdrew from negotiations on the Kyoto Protocol, and the United States never ratified the treaty. That lack of engagement has arguably been the single greatest constraint on the international climate change effort.

The Obama administration has indicated that it wants to play a leading role in the next round of negotiations; officials have been working since the beginning of the administration to establish U.S. leadership credentials. In his inaugural address, the president announced to the world, “With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to … roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

The essential elements of a post-2012 comprehensive climate change agreement include limits on greenhouse gases by the major emitting countries; transfer of clean energy technologies from countries that have already developed these to countries that have not; and support for climate change adaptation in poor, vulnerable countries.

To these we would add a fourth element: the need to explicitly bring agriculture, which is currently a major contributor to greenhouse emissions and potentially a major carbon “sink,” into the climate change deliberations.

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