Low expectations for climate talks

Earth as viewed by the Apollo 17 crew traveling toward the moon, December 7, 1972.

KAI RYSSDAL: A big United Nations conference on global warming got started today in Nairobi, Kenya. The top American negotiator made it clear he won't be doing much actual negotiating. Harlan Watson said the U.S. isn't likely to change its position against mandatory limits on greenhouse gases. We're the world's largest source of greenhouse gases. And the largest industrialized country that hasn't joined the international climate treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol. Some say the American position has diverted attention away from the real issue. That Kyoto isn't working anyway. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Sam Eaton reports.


SAM EATON: The U.N. Climate Change Conference is the first to be held in parched, sub-Saharan Africa.

The goal is to help poor countries like Kenya cope with the effects of global warming and chart a path for a post-Kyoto climate treaty after it expires in 2012. But few policy experts expect the meeting to yield any breakthroughs, especially since recent scientific reports indicate emissions cuts are needed well beyond Kyoto's.

David Sandalow is with the Brookings Institution.

DAVID SANDALOW: The really big decisions, the big steps forward that are gonna be needed to address this problem aren't going to happen for a couple of years, I believe, until the United States gets back in the game.

In the meantime, even countries that have signed on to Kyoto are having a hard time meeting its targets.

A strengthening economy is Eastern Europe is boosting CO2 emissions in the E.U., despite its treaty obligations. Last year, global carbon emissions reached the highest levels ever recorded. Until then, the fault lines between Kyoto signatories and the U.S. are only widening.

University of Colorado climate policy expert Roger Pielke Jr.:

ROGER PIELKE: The United States and Europe are seeing very similar trends in their emissions. They're both going up. And it doesn't seem to matter whether one is inside or outside of Kyoto for the increase in emissions.

The victim? Africa. The continent is expected to suffer the most from climate change as more severe droughts devastate its already impoverished economies. East Africa, where the conference is convenining, is in its fourth year of drought.

World temperatures have already risen to levels not seen in at least 12,000 years.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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