A Global Warming Treaty's Last Chance

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HERMANN J. KNIPPERTZ/AP

A protester holds a burned doll outside the U.N. conference on global warming

That teetering edifice that is the Kyoto Protocol gets some emergency repair work this week as delegates from 180 countries gather in Bonn to work out problems that threaten to scuttle the deal altogether. With the U.S. definitely not on board, and Japan threatening to leave as well, there is tremendous pressure to get enough nations together to adopt some version of the treaty designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If Japan withdraws support, the accordís days may be numbered, and hope isnít high among delegates that there will be an agreement this time around.

Activists in polar bear suits leafleted delegates as they entered the U.N. conference and Bonn police are prepared to control any demonstrations that get out of hand, but there havenít been any reports yet of violence among protesters as diplomats prepare to face off on the contentious issue.

The Kyoto Protocol aims to limit global warming by making rich countries cut emissions — especially carbon dioxide from cars and factories — but does not put the same requirements on developing nations. Talks in The Hague last November stalled over issues of enforcement. Economic concerns and the exemption of India and China were among the reasons cited by President George W. Bush when the U.S. renounced the protocol in March.

Despite the obstacles facing a treaty on global warming, there is more evidence lately that the phenomenon is real. A report by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel for Climate change says the earth is warming faster than at any time in the last millennium. Ground temperatures are 1.1 degree Fahrenheit higher than 100 years ago, and the pace could increase quickly in the next hundred years if nothing changes.

For a complete look at the science and politics surrounding the global warming issue, see the TIME cover story here.