Summit looks to update Kyoto treaty

December gathering meant to get ball rolling for ’09 confab

Christine Todd Whitman resigned her post as EPA chief over the U.S. stance on global warming.
Christine Todd Whitman resigned her post as EPA chief over the U.S. stance on global warming.

Two months from now, leaders from 189 countries should know what their chances are of modernizing an 11-year-old climate treaty that strives to take on global warming from a global perspective.

More than 8,000 people are expected to attend a Dec. 1-12 summit in Poland that, if all goes as planned, will be a preamble to a historic treaty that emerges from negotiations in Denmark at the end of 2009.

At stake is the future of the Kyoto Protocol, a controversial treaty that 38 industrialized countries signed in Japan in 1997.

The Kyoto accord sought to achieve meaningful - though costly - reductions in greenhouse gases on a global scale.

Conservatives and industry groups questioned the economic impact of such restrictions, as well as the exclusion of developing countries such as China and India.

Former President Bill Clinton's administration signed onto the agreement but was never able to get the Senate to ratify it. President Bush renounced it shortly after taking office in 2001.

China last year surpassed the United States as the world's biggest emitter of carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas.

READ MORE: On Thin Ice -- How global warming is changing our world

Under Kyoto, the United States was asked to decrease its greenhouse gas emissions by 7 percent from 1990 levels over a four-year averaging period, from 2008 through 2012.

Now, leaders from 189 countries are looking at 2012 and beyond. At last year's global climate-change summit in Bali, Indonesia, they adopted a "road map" for a new agreement to come from the upcoming summit in Denmark, scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2009, in Copenhagen.

The Bali event itself drew more than 10,000 participants.

Greenland's historic thaw is expected to factor heavily into the Denmark discussions. Greenland is a territory of Denmark. Its massive ice sheet - second only in size to that covering Antarctica - is undergoing rapid change.

Greenland experienced record thaws in 2003, 2005, and 2007. Results are still being calculated on this year's thaw. Some scientists believe it will be at least greater than average, if not another record.

The Arctic Council is an international body that includes the United States, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands. The latter also is a Danish territory. The council has commissioned a report on Greenland's environmental trends for the summit in Denmark.

The Kyoto treaty is being updated by the highest body of the United Nations Climate Change Convention, called the Conference of Parties. It meets annually.

Next year's Denmark gathering, called COP15, will be its 15th summit. Its summit in Kyoto was COP3, its third.

Mr. Bush's decision to pull the United States out of the Kyoto treaty was one of the reasons his first U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator, former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, cited for resigning her cabinet post midway through his first term.

In her 2005 book, It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America, Ms. Whitman said she told the President that global warming must be addressed because it "is a credibility issue for the U.S. in the international community."

She accused him of succumbing to pressure from far-right conservatives on Kyoto by reversing an earlier commitment to address carbon dioxide.

She said appeasing conservatives was a political embarrassment to her and that Mr. Bush acted "with little regard for what is in fact a serious problem."