Rupert Darwall writes in “Real Clear Politics”
Tuesday’s climate summit at the U.N. may well mark a turning point in the long-running talks as the reality sinks in that they are heading nowhere. For sure, the rhetoric is unchanged. Recently appointed U.N. peace messenger Leonardo DiCaprio is the show’s newest star, telling the meeting that it was “humankind’s greatest challenge.” But the older acts sounded stale. Former Vice President Al Gore demonstrated his green credentials when he said that political will was “a renewable resource,” recycling a line he’d first used at the 2007 Bali climate conference.
Underneath the overheated rhetoric and the U.N. platitudes about acting together, the signs of failure are already apparent. The original intent of the summit was to put world leaders on the spot. With the eyes of the world upon them, they would feel compelled to make ambitious pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions that could be inked in to a legally binding text. Instead, the leaders that came were let off the hook. Now they are only expected to submit their proposals by March next year. All the talk was of reaching “agreement” in Paris, which is a long way short of agreeing to a treaty. Countries were going to agree to make contributions to tackle global warming, not hard and fast commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Contributions are much weaker than commitments. For developing countries, it means listing the sorts of things they are doing anyway – a bit of reforestation here, some solar panels there.
All these are signs of slippage.
There were quite a number of empty seats in the chamber as the president spoke. Secretary of State John Kerry played with his BlackBerry. Many looked bored. At the end of the president’s remarks, the most enthusiastic applause came from DiCaprio. Perhaps that’s because he’s good actor. The climate change talks might be attracting dwindling audiences. But there’s one thing you can bet on: the climate change show will run and run.