UN talks in Cancun were not a success (Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.)

For developing countries, extending the Kyoto Protocol and its one-sided requirements is sacrosanct. The U.N. ambassador from the Solomon Islands said it most strongly, “With Kyoto there is no compromise. We’re talking about survival.”

The Chinese deputy delegation chief, Liu Ahenmin, was equally clear, “If a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol cannot be agreed at this Cancun session, it will create an international crisis of confidence in the forthcoming process of climate change negotiations.”

A strong contingent of developed countries, however, has refused to extend Kyoto. Japan, Canada, Russia, and the United States were all on record in Cancun refusing to support an extension of the treaty. Japan’s Environment Minister categorically stated that “Japan will not associate itself with setting a second commitment period [under the Kyoto Protocol].”

When Kyoto was drafted in 1997, it covered nearly 60 percent of the world’s emissions. Today it covers less than a third. That percentage will continue to rapidly decline. Based on emissions projections, even if the developed world reduced its emissions to zero, total global emissions would be higher in 2050 than they are today because emissions in the developing world are rising so quickly. Extending a treaty that covers only emissions from the developed world would not only be economically destructive, it would be environmentally ineffective.

Even among developed countries, Kyoto has not proven successful at limiting emissions. Much of the European Union, which has embraced Kyoto, has seen greater emissions growth post-Kyoto than the U.S., which rejected it.

The great “victory” of Cancun was a near consensus agreement (Bolivia objected) to leave open the question of whether the Kyoto Protocol should be the basis for a future treaty. Proponents have proclaimed the decision to decide later to be a success even though countries’ positions are plainly irreconcilable.

The UNFCCC process has devolved into little more than a forum for developing nations to demand transfers of wealth and increasingly unrealistic emissions cuts.

Consider Japan. In June 2009, the Japanese prime minister Taro Aso announced that Japan would seek to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Japan is already among the most carbon-efficient economies in the world, and its proposed reduction would require a rate of decarbonization that no country in the world has ever achieved.

Far from being applauded, Japan was universally denounced. Yvo de Boer, then-director of the UNFCCC, said that the commitment fell far short of what was needed and that the Japanese proposal left him “speechless.”

In Cancun, Bolivia’s President Evo Morales set the bar even higher by demanding that developed nations reduce their emissions to half their 1990 levels by 2017. He added, “There are two ways: either capitalism dies or Mother Earth dies.”

My goal isn’t to be cynical, but the prospect for a meaningful consensus between 193 countries is non-existent. Fortunately, it is also unnecessary. The 17 member Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate is a much more manageable process, and the economies represented are responsible for 80 percent of the world’s emissions.

If the consensus-based U.N. process is to survive, it needs to drastically alter course and focus on developing a transparent, universal emissions registry so that each countries’ emissions and mitigation efforts can be measured. Only then can we focus on applauding countries that succeed in creating more efficient economies rather than in making the most grandiose political promises.