At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 23 years ago, the world’s nations adopted a treaty that pledged, but ultimately failed, to cut the emissions driving global warming. In Paris over the last two weeks, negotiators from around the world met for the 21st time since then in an effort to move from aspiration to action.
As legions of bleary-eyed diplomats, environmentalists and lobbyists make their way home across the planet, you’ll hear proclamations that COP 21, as the meeting was called, was a historic turning point, and a profound failure.
Both will be right, depending on the scale of reference.
For the first time, even before the opening gavel, more than 180 nations, large and small, submitted plans — yes, voluntary ones — to divert from their carbon-based business as usual. The United States and China guaranteed progress by stepping together a year ago in Beijing after more than a decade of “you first” fights, laying out detailed domestic plans to curb emissions.