Saving the planet: The only problem is the United States

British Prime Minister Theresa May and other leaders from the world’s 20 leading economies agreed Thursday on ways to stabilize global temperatures.

The action plan, approved by “all agreed parties” in a summit in Dublin, Ireland, was hailed as a “historic step” by the UK’s Foreign Office, which issued a press release. The hope, officials said, was to ensure that global warming wasn’t “unacceptably high” and to stabilize warming at “well below” the 2-degree target.

But while the world’s leaders are, in theory, on the same page, the Copenhagen Accord, the deal to which this action plan supersedes, fell apart in 2009. The accord was signed by over 110 countries and came about in 2009, thanks to the efforts of former U.S. President Barack Obama. But it was roundly criticized for falling short of promises from developed nations to provide more financial assistance for poorer countries to prepare for climate change and for not seeking to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The idea behind the accord was to jumpstart international climate talks, but the Copenhagen Accord instead kicked off those talks on a serious downer. Poised to hold its next meeting at the UN headquarters in New York, the UNGA instead proposed a vague “comprehensive outcome,” which remained undefined for the majority of countries.

Looking back on Copenhagen, critics of the accord included former President Bill Clinton, who said it was “great that we’re still here … but that was not a conference we should have been in.” (Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. had a strong tradition of ignoring treaties.)

The failure of the Copenhagen Accord isn’t the only problem that the United States has with the 19 other countries. The United States never ratified the original Kyoto Protocol, in which developed countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions in order to help make developing nations like China and India more resilient to climate change. The White House has said that any new emissions standards would rely on a “unilateral, voluntary, and voluntary agreement.” That is the approach that the deal adopted in Ireland, which calls for countries to “work together to provide support for mitigation and adaptation needs, including through targeted financial assistance for developing countries.”

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