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World weather prompts new look at Kyoto

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KYOTO, Japan -- While abnormal weather conditions play havoc around the globe, many residents of this ancient capital are calling for the early enforcement of a protocol to counter climate degradation.

"We would like the Kyoto Protocol to be put into force as soon as possible," said Masafumi Kitamura, head of the city's Global Environment Policy Section, referring to the treaty drafted at the 1997 international conference here.

World leaders converged then to discuss how to respond to global warming and came up with the Kyoto Protocol, an international framework for countering climate change. Under the protocol, industrial countries are required to cut emissions of greenhouse gases by an average 5.2 percent from 1990 levels by the period between 2008 and 2012.

The United States has rejected the treaty, in part because it exempted China, India, Brazil and other rapidly growing nations from mandatory emission cutbacks.

Much of the initial U.S. opposition to the Kyoto accord was based on a belief that the science on global warming has become overly politicized.

The Bush administration now accepts the premise that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are one cause of climate change. But it remains opposed to the Kyoto accord, considering it a flawed treaty that if implemented would do more harm than good.

Even without U.S. participation, however, Mr. Kitamura called the Kyoto Protocol a "milestone, since the whole world is getting together to solve a global problem."

Since the Kyoto conference, the city's people -- residents, journalists, businesses and public officials -- have become more aware of environmental issues, he said.

Kyoto residents are proud that their city of shrines and temples was the capital of Japan for 1,200 years.

They are also proud that their city's name is now associated with efforts to combat climate change and are quick to cite unusual weather patterns experienced this summer as evidence that global warming is under way.

In France, record-breaking heat since late July caused thousands of deaths, largely among the elderly.

In India, this year's premonsoon temperatures reached 120 degrees -- nine degrees above normal -- and at least 1,400 people died from the heat, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Weather anomalies were also seen in the United States, where 562 tornados touched down during May, killing 41 persons, the WMO said. The figure shattered the previous monthly record -- 399 in June 1992 -- the U.N. weather agency said.

Moreover, much of the Arctic ice cap is expected to melt during the summer season by the end of this century, according to a three-year international study led by professor Ola M. Johannessen at the Nansen Environmental and Remote Sensing Center in Norway.

The study, funded by the European Commission, indicated that the area of Arctic sea ice had shrunk by 7.4 percent in the past 25 years, with record-low summer coverage in September 2002. That may be attributable to human emissions like carbon dioxide, the study said.

Global average surface temperature during this century will very likely rise at rates unprecedented during last 10,000 years, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was established in 1988 by WMO and the U.N. Environment Program to assess scientific, technical and socioeconomic information relating to climate change.

"Global warming is already upon us," John Houghton, co-chairman of the IPCC, told the London Guardian. "[T]he impacts of global warming are such that I have no hesitation in describing it as a weapon of mass destruction," he said.

Mr. Houghton also criticized the United States, saying it "is refusing to take the problem seriously."

Tsuyoshi Hara, director of the Kyoto Network on the Prevention of Global Warming, an alliance of activist groups, agreed. Concerned that the delay of ratification of the Kyoto Protocol could accelerate global warming, he blamed the delay mainly on America's "selfish action" of withdrawing from the accord.

"The United States should act with global interest, rather than national interest in mind," he said.

However, the international agreement is moving forward, albeit slowly. Many now urge Russia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and on several occasions, Russia has expressed its intention to do so.

The Kyoto Protocol comes into force when countries accounting for at least 55 percent of 1990 carbon-dioxide emissions have ratified it. Russia's signature would meet that requirement.

The move will be welcome, said Mr. Hara of the Kyoto Network. "The United States should take this opportunity to reflect deeply on its actions and rejoin the Kyoto Protocol."

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