The Most Important Meeting in History In 1997, delegates from all over the world met in Japan to create a worldwide framework for reducing...
The Most Important Meeting in HistoryIn 1997, delegates from all over the world met in Japan to create a worldwide framework for reducing carbon emissions. The resulting treaty, which took effect in 2005, aimed to reduce global emissions by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels. Since then, the Kyoto Protocol has been the watchword of environmentalists everywhere-a shorthand for the kind of international cooperation needed to fight climate change (and a reminder of the U.S. Senate's embarrassing refusal to get on board).Since 1997, we've come to realize that the climate-change problem is far more dire than we thought. The problem is so large, in fact, that only major government action can solve it. But Kyoto, which expires in 2012, is far too lenient to be that solution.So when delegates meet in Copenhagen at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this winter to negotiate Kyoto's replacement, they will face a daunting but important task: finding a consensus that ensures that the world's developed countries curb their emissions while at the same time allowing developing countries to expand their economies without relying on cheap fossil fuels.A passable understanding of history and human nature doesn't inspire much optimism for what will come out of Copenhagen, but there might be reason for hope. There is a groundswell of media attention and excitement for what under any other circumstances would be a dry piece of diplomatic procedure. That might just mean that the world's citizens are becoming aware of the importance of the juncture at which we find ourselves. And if enough people care, eventually our governments will have to follow.Illustrations by Leandro Castelao