Seemingly every day brings news about how poorly we understand our climate, and yet global leaders seem more determined than ever to tackle the problem with game plans drawn up using yesterday’s facts. China began rolling out its first carbon cap-and-trade scheme last week, and yesterday President Obama announced a series of executive orders, collectively called his Climate Action Plan, to curb American emissions and mitigate the potentially nasty effects of global warming. The Financial Times sees this as a groundswell that could renew hopes for a global climate treaty:
[T]he world’s two biggest carbon dioxide emitters are both showing signs of the domestic action that many international treaty analysts say must precede any successful global agreement.
Global greens would love to believe that the international community could give this another shot. But national-level progress from the world’s top two emitters doesn’t change the fact that a global treaty is still unworkable.
We’ve seen over and over again, at conference after conference, how difficult it is to get countries on board with an international strategy. The gap between the developed and the developing world still looks unbridgeable. How can the developed world, responsible for most of the carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere, tell the developing world, which now contributes 60 percent of the world’s emissions from energy, to curtail its growth for the sake of the planet?
Even if, by some miracle, world leaders manage to divvy up who is responsible for what in a global climate treaty, without a credible enforcement mechanism it will amount to a green version of the Kellogg-Briand pact.
Going back to the international drawing board is a waste of time. Instead of continuing this futile exercise, leaders should be building on this momentum to push through new policies at the national level, picking low-hanging fruit like energy efficiency and encouraging new ways of living and working (telework, anyone?) that can hasten the transition from an industrial to an information economy.
[Earth image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]