As I sat waiting for climate point man John Kerry to begin his talk yesterday, a member of the Swiss delegation to the Copenhagen climate talks reminded me of something very basic: even as negotiators frantically try to reach agreement on a new framework to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, parties are negotiating in parallel reduction targets for the second Kyoto implementation period, roughly 2012-20. The first phase of Kyoto called on the industrial countries--the so-called Annex ! countries--to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5 percent by 2012 by comparison with 1990. Except for the United States, which declined to ratify Kyoto and has been saying here in Copenhagen that it will not "do Kyoto" in any way, shape or form, all the advanced industrial countries have at least promised to cut emissions in line with Kyoto targets.
There are now two possibilities, as the Swiss woman explained. Kyoto will be retained--the overwhelming preference by the way of the Group of 77 developing countries--and new reduction targets will be adopted for 2020 in light of what the United States and major non-annex 1 countries like China and India agree to do in parallel. Or Kyoto will be ditched, as such, and Kyoto-like commitments will be folded into a new framework agreement . The poorest developing countries much prefer to keep Kyoto so as to retain their non-Annex 1 status, and unless the United States brings something substantial to the table in the next 48 hours, the rest of the world may end up coming around to their position.
Remember: under Kyoto, which the United States not only signed but virtually wrote, it was to cut its emissions by 7 percent by 2012 versus 1990. Instead, by 2005 its emissions were about 17 percent higher than they were in 1990. So when Obama promises to now cut U.S. emissions by 17 percent by 2020, he's only promising to get us back to 1990--in other words, to the point where Americans were supposed to start cutting their emissions in 1997, twelve years ago.