UN Climate Talks: Bold Commitments or Empty Promises?

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When United Nations climate talks wrap up at some point this week in Dubai, big promises will likely be made about how the world is going to combat climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal.

Negotiators are debating how fast fossil fuels should be reduced and how a major transition to green energy would be paid for, raising the possibility of a historic agreement.

Previous summits have ended with funds established to help developing countries transition to green energies, pledges to slash pollution and promises to keep people most vulnerable at the centre of policy discussions.

But have countries stuck to their word?

Ahead of whatever decisions come from this year’s negotiations, here is a look at five big promises from nearly 30 years of talks, and what’s happened since.

The third climate summit took place in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 — one of the warmest years recorded in the 20th century.

Known as the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement asked 41 high-emitting countries across the world and the European Union to cut their emissions by a little more than 5% compared to 1990 levels. Emissions cuts can come from many places, from deploying green energies like wind and solar that don’t produce emissions to making things that do, like vehicles with combustible engines, run more cleanly.

Despite the agreement to cut emissions, it was only in 2005 that countries agreed to finally act on the Kyoto Protocol. The United States and China — the two highest emitters both then and now — didn’t sign the agreement.

In terms of sticking to the promises made, Kyoto wasn’t successful. Emissions have increased dramatically since then. At the time, 1997 was the hottest year on record since pre-industrial times. 1998 broke that record, as have more than a dozen years since then.

But Kyota is still considered a landmark moment in the fight against climate change because it was first time so many countries recognized the problem and pledged to act on it.

By the time the 2009 conference in Denmark came around, the world was capping off its warmest decade on record — which has since been broken.

The summit is widely regarded as a failure for the impasse between developed and developing countries on slashing emissions and whether poorer nations could use fossil fuels to grow their economies. Still, it did see one major pledge: money for countries to transition to clean energy.

Source: Rising Nepal