The question of life after the Kyoto Protocol is looming over the Cancun climate negotiations.  

The shadow was first cast a year ago during the failures of COP 15 in Copenhagen. There aren’t any indications that a continuation of the accord will be struck in Cancun. Or ever.

Japan has bowed out of the idea of extending the protocol beyond 2012. Mother Jones quoted a senior Japanese negotiator says “Japan won't agree to extend the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 even if that means isolating itself at the U.N. climate change talks next week in Cancun, Mexico.” Japan isn’t alone in its skepticism, but its noteworthiness is more symbolic considering the expiring protocol is named after a Japanese city that hosted COP 3.

Nonetheless, Japan is out, and life after Kyoto somehow remains more uncertain than life with Kyoto. This isn’t surprising, but leaders have been pushing for progress on an extension since the beginning of the meetings this week. At a World Climate Summit event both Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and Mexican President Felipe Calderon said that sorting out what to do next with Kyoto should be a focus of the convention. Even during the event, which was on the first day of the meetings, Calderon and Figueres were careful not to set expectations too high. This makes the early concerns about Kyoto’s extension even more disappointing considering those already subdued expectation levels.

So what’s next? Deforestation policy seems to be a place where action is expected. And there are rumors trickling out of the meetings that the United States and China are beginning to play nice. This could mean some incremental progress could be made in the other key areas such as adaptation, technology transfer and long-term financing. But it’s hard to know which goals will be achieved and which ones won’t. The scars of Copenhagen remain, Japan is against a deal named after a Japanese city, and the United States and China are supposedly getting along. Perhaps the sun down here in Cancun is getting to everyone after all. 

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