This article gives a brief overview of the Kyoto Protocol, its core features of long-term relevance, the outlook to 2012, and the options for moving forward with a new round of negotiations on international climate change responses. It is concluded that major elements of the Kyoto system are now irreversible. This is not only because of ongoing implementation and political commitments, but because they embody an inherent logic about the process of seeking to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and then seeking international flexibility and efficiency in the way such commitments are implemented. Also, Russia is almost certain to bring Kyoto into force, at a future time of President Putin’s own preference, and Kyoto Parties have to act in this context. Academic research over the past few years has scoped out many possible types of elements of future commitments: there is now a large “toolbox” potentially available. None offer convincing replacements for a system that retains quantified emission commitments for the major industrialised countries at its core, but a far richer penumbra of supporting and extending agreements will be needed. The essential requirements will be: implementation of existing Kyoto commitments; new terms of engagement with the United States, driven first and foremost by the growing domestic forces there, rather than by tinkering with international design; and a new willingness of developing countries to engage in serious discussion about their appropriate role. Plausible ideas exist that could form the basis of an effective agreement built on the established process. The crucial question is whether the political will exists to start exploring them in a new round of negotiations.
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