Climate summit lacks participants, gravitas


This week world leaders are convening in New York City to discuss ways to curb the global effects of climate change. The summit is an attempt to find international agreement on what next steps will most effectively cap rising global greenhouse gas emissions.

Any meaningful approach to climate research and other initiatives will require the cooperation of all nations who share the Earth's air. There's little the U.S. can do unilaterally to alleviate air quality concerns, despite what many climate change activists argue.

But the summit will be missing leaders of some countries most responsible for gas emissions. China won't be there, for example, nor will India. It's also convening at a time when Europe is scaling back its failed experiment with massive renewable energy subsidies.

China's absence is most significant, given it is responsible for 25 percent of carbon emissions over the past five years. China leads the world as the largest producer and consumer of coal — 46 percent and 49 percent, respectively.

Carbon emissions increased globally to 35.1 billion metric tons in 2013. That's up 29 percent from a decade ago and a new record. But of that annual increase, China jumped by more than the rest of the world combined at 358 million metric tons.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be in New York, but not at the conference. Of India's energy consumption, 44 percent comes from the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal. It's one of the top five coal producers, consumers and importers.

The European nations will be there, as will the United States. But even in those nations with a clear commitment to reducing carbon emissions, efforts to move away from fossil fuels haven't gone as planned.

Germany generated 45 percent of its power last year from coal. That's the highest level of production since 2007. Chancellor Angela Merkel has acknowledged fossil-based plants are indispensable for the time being, and the country is on track to miss its ambitious new-energy goals for 2020.

Other European nations are also coming to the reality that costly carbon-reduction initiatives don't favorably balance against economic growth.

Absent the worst polluters and a clear commitment, perhaps the summit is best served by pausing to examine where climate change science stands. The science is hardly settled, as the most ardent activists contend.

Estimates by leading scientists in President Barack Obama's own administration show human additions to carbon emissions by 2050 will directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by just 1 or 2 percent. In addition, the globe has stopped warming for anywhere from 16-26 years, though carbon emissions have increased.

Those facts would suggest that combating carbon emissions, while still vital, may not be as urgent as it once seemed. In other words, there's time to bring the developed world and the developing world together to devise a deliberate, uniform strategy for addressing climate change that doesn't sacrifice economic growth for either.