Is Kyoto Kaput?

Even before it officially takes effect on Feb. 16, the Kyoto agreement to curb greenhouse gases is leaking air.

Fixing it won't be easy.

Last week, most of the world's nations met in Argentina to assess what the treaty might be able to achieve by its expiration in 2012. Many nations are faltering in their commitment to rein in industrial carbon-dioxide pollution since it's possible such steps will limit economic growth.

Some, such as Italy and Canada, are raising doubts about the sacrifices required. Britain admits it may not reach its target, while Japan flat-out says it can't reduce emissions by the expected amount, which is 6 percent below the 1990 levels.

If only the US, as the world's biggest CO2 polluter, had been in the treaty, the other developed nations might feel better about imposing restraints on their industries.

That's why the other purpose of last week's meeting was so important. European diplomats bent over backward to find a new consensus for a post-Kyoto effort that would include the US.

But not much happened. The meeting ended with a weak proposal for an international "seminar" in May for nations to "exchange information" on their ideas about the unusual weather many are experiencing.

With the reelection of President Bush, the US position will probably remain the same for the next four years: It will not make economic sacrifices to limit CO2 emissions, but it's making a big technological push to do so. Many experts doubt if new cleansing technologies will make a dent soon in climate shifts. But they also doubt whether even extending Kyoto would do much.

To keep the US engaged, Europe is likely to need to bend toward the Bush view if it wants to forge a post-Kyoto agreement. Its own experience with Kyoto may push it that way, too. In addition, with China, India, Brazil, and other lesser-developed nations clearly out of Kyoto, the only consensus may be a massive investment in new, clean-burning fuel technologies.

But holding a "seminar" hardly captures the urgency to do something quickly about climate change.

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