Kyoto gets a kick-off date

After nearly seven years of doubt and often rancorous debate, the Kyoto Protocol has an official start date: Feb. 16, 2005, at which point the treaty will become binding. The 90-day countdown period begins tomorrow, thanks to the handover of official documents from Russia to the U.N. at a ceremony in Nairobi, declaring its ratification. Only four industrialized countries now remain outside the treaty: the U.S., Australia, and global powerhouses Liechtenstein and Monaco. The U.S. bailed on the treaty shortly after George W. Bush came to office in 2001, claiming it represented too great a burden on the economy, and that it was unfair, imposing specific targets only on developed countries and not on rapidly developing (and polluting) countries like China and India. Despite U.S. intransigence, many U.S. companies are pushing to meet Kyoto targets anyway, leery of losing their ability to operate factories in signatory countries.