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In global climate change fight, what can we learn from Kyoto?

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So we should think of this challenge as trying to figure out what kinds of diplomatic frameworks will get all the key players to do their part in cutting GHGs. The debate over a legally binding successor to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is about the international regime within which efforts to reduce emissions will take place.

For some issues like limiting nuclear weapons, a binding treaty is absolutely the appropriate form for agreements. In this case, it isn’t quite as clear.  Will pushing for the strongest form of commitment prompt big polluters like the US, China, and India to cooperate or resist?  If we take any lessons from the experience since Kyoto, it’s that we need all those who cause the problem to contribute toward the solution.

James Stafford: Have there been any major policy missteps with Kyoto?

David Shorr: Instead of second-guessing the efforts of the mid-1990s, a more constructive approach is to focus on the things we know now versus 15-20 years ago. Regardless of whether it could be foreseen at the time, the Kyoto agreement didn’t induce the US, China or India to cut emissions -- by now a glaring problem. (Related Articles: Will Saudi Arabia Allow the U.S. Oil Boom? Interview with Chris Faulkner)

For Asia’s two big rising powers, this was intentional; Kyoto was a two-tiered system requiring GHG reductions from developed nations but not developing countries, which could actually sell their allotted pollution rights to the industrialized world. On the plus side, awareness in China and India that they must be part of the solution has grown in recent years. Both countries still put their highest priority on economic growth, but have committed to make that growth less carbon-intensive.

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