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Solving the climate-warming problem

President Theodore Roosevelt spoke about the inherent complexity when the many nations of the world engage in joint negotiation endeavors to solve a common problem.
As all bring widely diverse interests, speak different languages and are accustomed to different laws and methods of procedure, he reminded American audiences and the Congress, efforts to agree are extraordinarily difficult.
If successful, however, “they cannot fail to be a powerful influence for good.”
The United Nations talks in Durban this month, attended by 194 countries, exemplified these difficulties, but also the hope for a comprehensive agreement to help avert the worst dangers from global climate change.
At the beginning of the summit, expectations and demands by developing countries had been so high, and acceptance of internationally binding greenhouse gas reductions by the major industrial countries, such as the United States and China, so low that the talks seemed headed for failure.
But, as a result of the host country, South Africa, “helping to hold everyone’s feet to the fire,” they were extended for 36 hours and a “dramatic compromise” was reached.
The Union of Concerned Scientists reported on the outcome and new, agreed-upon process, the “Durban Platform for Enhanced Action.”
The European nations and some others, it notes, will maintain beyond the 2012 Kyoto climate-treaty expiration their emissions commitments under that treaty.
Concurrently, negotiations will be held toward development of a follow-up agreement “with legal force applicable to all parties.”
The target is to complete this agreement by 2015 and have it fully implemented by 2020.
The summit overcame a major obstacle in the earlier (Kyoto) treaty, in that some newly industrializing nations — India and China especially — were exempted from its emissions obligations.
In Durban, China’s attending Minister had now indicated his country’s agreement to binding obligations; India, “not wanting to be the country to kill the deal,” then also agreed to the new Platform, and to binding emissions reductions.
Although several other, positive agreements were reached, “little progress was made” in one crucial area, the UCS report indicates.
This concerns a too large “ambition gap” between overall reductions needed to keep atmospheric greenhouse gases at a safe level and what, collectively or individually, has been pledged so far.
While, for example, the European countries have adopted energy policies and ambitious reduction targets — 20 percent below 1990 levels EU-wide and as much as 32 to 40 percent by Greet Britain and Germany, by 2020 — the United States’ proposal is for only 17 percent below 2005 levels and it yet lacks effective, federal energy policy through climate legislation.
President Roosevelt could not foresee the dangers to the planet and human civilization, through climate warming, that modern industrial technologies would unleash.
Yet his urging in Chattanooga, in 1902, is timely today: “As a people, like the rest of civilized mankind,” he said, “we find set before us for solution… problems which need the most earnest desire of all to solve them well.”
The “ambition gap” needs to be closed.