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Symbolic Extension Of Kyoto Protocol Clears The Way For Talks On New Climate Treaty

United Nations: Extension of Kyoto protocol clears way for talks on a new pact

by Cheryl Hogue , Alex Scott
December 17, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 51

Credit: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Figueres speaks at the UN climate-change conference in Qatar.
Photo of Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate change official, speaking at the UN climate change conference in Doha, Qatar.
Credit: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
Figueres speaks at the UN climate-change conference in Qatar.

A newly agreed-to extension of the 1997 Kyoto protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sets the stage for negotiations on a new global climage-change treaty. Those talks are to begin next year.

Finalized at a United Nations climate-change conference earlier this month in Doha, Qatar, the extension is largely symbolic and will have little impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet a number of countries see it as an essential prelude to talks aimed at hammering out a new treaty. The goal of negotiators is to have a new treaty in place by 2015 and set to take effect in 2020. The aim of the new pact is emission limits for all countries.

“Doha is another step in the right direction, but we still have a long road ahead,” says Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate-change official. Countries agreed in 2009 to limit average global temperature increase to 2 °C over preindustrial levels by 2100. Figueres points out that the opportunity to affordably achieve that goal is slipping away as greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise worldwide.

Extending the Kyoto protocol will technically ensure that legally binding emission reductions remain in play—at least for nations that agreed to the maneuver—until 2020. The U.S. never signed the Kyoto protocol and is thus not affected by the extension.

The original Kyoto protocol requires industrialized countries that signed on to collectively cut their emissions of greenhouse gases by 5% from 1990 levels during the period 2008–12. In Doha, a handful of nations, including Australia, Norway, Switzerland, and Ukraine, joined the European Union in agreeing to extend the emission cuts. Those nations and the EU each set their own goals for reductions during the extension period. Meanwhile, other countries currently bound by the Kyoto protocol, including Japan and Russia, opted to let their commitments expire on Dec. 31.

The Doha meeting marked the first UN climate-change conference to which the chemical industry’s global body, the International Council of Chemical Associations (ICCA), was invited to attend as an official observer. “We want to be part of the process and part of the various solutions,” Russel Mills, director of energy and climate-change policy for Dow Chemical, tells C&EN.



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