Newspaper article International New York Times

Talks in Paris Set Stage for Action ; There Are Reasons to See This Summit as Different from Earlier Failed Efforts

Newspaper article International New York Times

Talks in Paris Set Stage for Action ; There Are Reasons to See This Summit as Different from Earlier Failed Efforts

Article excerpt

There are reasons to believe the Paris negotiations are different from previous failed efforts, but an agreement would hardly halt global warming.

President Obama and more than 100 world leaders convened with thousands of diplomats on Monday on the outskirts of Paris to open two weeks of intense negotiations aimed at forging an accord that could begin to avert the most devastating effects of global warming and redefine the economy of the 21st century.

If the talks fail -- as they did in two previous attempts to achieve such a deal -- then nations will continue on a trajectory that scientists say locks the planet into a future of rising sea levels, more frequent floods, worsening droughts, food and water shortages, destructive hurricanes and other catastrophic events.

Recent scientific reports have concluded that the first effects of human-caused climate change have already started to sweep across the Earth. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects that 2015 will be the hottest global year on record, beating the record set in 2014.

Still, veterans of two decades of United Nations climate change negotiations say there is reason to think that the Paris summit meeting could be different from previous efforts and yield a deal that could stave off the more destructive effects of warming.

"The stage is set for the possibility of getting this right, but on the other hand there are all these wrinkles and hurdles at the last minute," Secretary of State John Kerry said in an interview last week.

If you are thinking you have seen this before, you are right. Since 1992, United Nations negotiators have held annual summit meetings aimed at drafting a global climate change treaty. They came close to a deal twice.

In 1997, world leaders signed the Kyoto Protocol, which assigned the largest economies legally binding targets for cutting their greenhouse gas emissions. There were two big problems: Kyoto assigned targets to the developed world but made no requirements of developing economies like India and China, which today are two of the largest greenhouse gas polluters. And President Bill Clinton never sent the deal to the Senate for ratification because it would not have passed, thus exempting the world's largest economy from action.

In 2009 in Copenhagen, Mr. Obama and other world leaders drafted a new pact to replace the Kyoto deal. It would have committed developing countries like China to action, but it failed to achieve the unanimous consent required for legal enforcement.

What is different now?

The biggest difference is the breakthrough agreement between the United States and China. Last year the world's two largest carbon polluters and historically the biggest obstacles to a deal announced plans to jointly enact emissions reduction policies.

Mr. Obama pledged that by 2025, the United States would cut emissions up to 28 percent from 2005 levels, largely through aggressive environmental rules on greenhouse gases from power plant smokestacks and vehicle tailpipes. …

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