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When the Kyoto Protocol on climate change was being negotiated in Japan in December 1997, I was living in Tokyo. It was probably the most important international summit Japan had hosted, and the local media was giving it saturation coverage, right down to Australia’s discordant contributions.

Five years earlier, the signing of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change had recognised the growing scientific consensus that anthropogenic global warming was occurring, that it would pose an increasing threat, and that coordinated action was needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The aim of the Kyoto meeting was to move from a shared aims to a means of achieving it, to agree on binding commitments to reduce emissions.

The delegates gathered in Kyoto acknowledged that different countries were at different stages of economic development. Because Western countries had a 200-year head start in the industrialisation stakes, they would need to take the lead in reducing emissions, with developing countries, including China and India, joining at a future date.

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