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The recent Montreal meeting of parties to the Kyoto Protocol marked an important step forward toward post-Kyoto initiatives. Despite a frustrating start, the meeting, held to give further impetus to global-warming prevention efforts, ended with a promising decision: Major developed countries, including Japan and the member states of the European Union, agreed to set up a working group to study reduction targets after 2012, which is not stipulated in the protocol.

Moreover, parties to the protocol managed to agree to continue a nonbinding dialogue with the participation of the United States, which has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol, and with developing countries, which are not obliged to reduce greenhouse gases under the protocol. While it is not yet clear what kind of forum for discussion will be established, it is significant that the participants agreed to continue the “flow” of the Kyoto Protocol on a global scale. This probably reflects their view that global warming is becoming a major international problem that no one can ignore.

The meeting was the first full gathering of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol since it went into effect in February of this year. It was attended by nearly 10,000 persons, including government representatives from around the world and members of nongovernmental organizations, making it the largest such meeting so far. In the end, the meeting succeeded in drawing in the U.S. and developing countries and putting post-Kyoto efforts on the radar. Before the meeting began, it was feared that a framework completely different from the Kyoto Protocol was looming on the horizon.

A major problem was how to pull in the U.S., which withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol due to concerns about its impact on the economy. At a ministerial conference held just before the end of the meeting, the EU and others called on the U.S. to join discussions, but Washington stood firm and announced its refusal to take part in further negotiations. At a press conference, Prime Minister Paul Martin of Canada, the presiding country, criticized the U.S. by name, saying, “There is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it.”

The meeting finally managed to draw in the U.S. by inviting it to join a dialogue rather than negotiations. As long as the current administration of President George W. Bush continues, Washington most likely will not accept any emission regulations that involve reduction targets. However, since the U.S. is also the largest emitting country, accounting for nearly one-quarter of the world’s greenhouse gases, it is crucial to persist with discussions urging the U.S. to return to the protocol and thereby ensure a united global effort.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, developed countries in general are to reduce emissions by at least 5 percent from 1990 levels between 2008 and 2012; Japan is obliged to achieve a 6 percent reduction. At the Montreal meeting, protocol operation rules and measures to alleviate damage from global warming in developing countries were adopted. It can be said that the Kyoto Protocol has entered the stage of full implementation.

The problem is that, even if the targets of the Kyoto Protocol can be achieved, it will do nothing more than delay global warming for a decade or so. The real key to checking global warming lies in how much the world will be able to reduce emissions in the post-Kyoto Protocol period — after 2012. Estimates are that it will be necessary to limit the rise in the average temperature worldwide by less than 2 degrees compared with that in the middle of the 19th century.

Throughout the world, many people share the perception that efforts to prevent global warming are required on a global scale, but reaching agreement on concrete measures is difficult. Global warming is advancing at a rapid pace. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are continuing to increase, and abnormal meteorological conditions and violent natural disasters are occurring around the world.

These phenomena should be taken as a warning to humankind of the possible consequences of failing to protect the global environment. It is obvious that developed countries, as the worst polluters, must take the initiative in stepping up anti-warming efforts. Japan hosted an international meeting in Kyoto that gave birth to the Kyoto Protocol. But this does not necessarily mean that Japan has been particularly active in promoting steps to reach the goals of the protocol. For one thing, the government has yet to work out a solid plan for a major change in the social and economic structure that would work to prevent global warming.

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