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Diplomats from the U.S. and other rich countries will meet on Sunday in London. They'll be talking about a new global warming agreement. It's becoming clear that the new deal will not simply be a revised and expanded Kyoto climate treaty. To the consternation of many countries in the developing world, it appears that the Kyoto protocol will be abandoned.
As NPR's Richard Harris reports, it's not clear exactly what will take its place.
RICHARD HARRIS: The Kyoto treaty was a landmark when it was negotiated 12 years ago. The key to the pact was that many industrialized countries promised to reach emissions reductions targets on a specific timetable. But what's to come after the treaty's initial term ends in 2012? Evidently, not a more ambitious version of the same arrangement. That became apparent during climate talks in Bangkok last week.
LUMUMBA DI: We have witnessed one developed country after the other making pronouncement that literally amounts to discarding the Kyoto Protocol.
HARRIS: Lumumba Di-Aping is a Sudanese diplomat who was speaking on behalf of some 130 developing nations. They are extremely unhappy about this turn of events.
DI: It's like throwing away your baby and saying, no, I will have a new one.
HARRIS: Di-Aping fretted that it could take yet another 15 years if nations of the world decided to start from scratch on a new mechanism to limit greenhouse gas emissions. European diplomats in Bangkok tried to couch their change of heart about the Kyoto treaty more delicately. But Michael Levi at the Council on Foreign Relations says the facts are stark.
MICHAEL LEVI: Kyoto is essentially dead after 2012.
HARRIS: Levi argues that's not actually a bad thing. Disagreements about the Kyoto treaty have created global deadlock on a climate deal. The United States never ratified the agreement because it doesn't require any action from the developing world, even from China, which is now the world's largest emitter. The Bush administration considered that a fatal flaw and so does the Obama White House. Jonathan Pershing is a top U.S. negotiator.
JONATHAN PERSHING: The notion that we should have an agreement which looks explicitly and exclusively at a handful of countries doesn't seem right. The whole purpose of this is to move the world to a better place, not to move one set of countries down that road.
HARRIS: American resistance to the Kyoto treaty created a huge political schism with Europe and much of the developing world complaining that the United States was dragging its heels on climate change. Other shortcomings of Kyoto simmered quietly in the background, Levi says.
LEVI: There was widespread agreement for quite a while, I think, that the Kyoto approach was not going to work, but no one wanted to be the one who said that.
HARRIS: Finally, at the climate meeting in Bangkok, European diplomats suggested that they would just let the treaty expire. In an interview with NPR this week, European Commission Vice President Margot Wallstrom put it in practical terms. It's been a logistical nightmare for the Kyoto signatories to try to update that treaty while at the same time trying to negotiate an additional treaty that the United States would agree to.
MARGOT WALLSTROM: If they can be merged, I think we would all be glad and we want to have it in one negotiation track.
HARRIS: The huge question, of course, is what a new treaty would look like. Alden Meyer from the Union of Concerned Scientists says one option on the table is each country would simply pledge what it intends to do rather than negotiate collective targets and timetables.
ALDEN MEYER: It's different than a political negotiation, where you work something out and you sort of have to hold hands and jump together. Of course the flaw was in Kyoto - the U.S. wasn't one of the hand holders.
HARRIS: Meyer says the worry is countries won't pledge enough action if each one gets to decide for itself how hard to try. And Michael Levi says a new treaty won't come together overnight.
LEVI: Will it take time to negotiate? Yes. Does it mean we're not going to have a deal this December? Yes. But we weren't going to have a deal under Kyoto this December either.
HARRIS: December is when diplomats meeting in Copenhagen are supposed to have come up with a new climate agreement.
Richard Harris, NPR News.
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