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Published: Wednesday, 12/5/2012

Climate talks fizzle

Few previous years have offered so many urgent reasons for the nations of the world to develop a plan to address climate change — or so much cause for frustration at their failure to do so.

The first nine months of 2012 were the warmest on record in the United States, which also experienced its worst drought in 50 years. The East Coast was pummeled by one of North America’s worst storms, Hurricane Sandy. Its spring was the warmest since at least 1895. The start of December has been freakishly warm.

Across the globe, sea levels have risen. Public health officials have warned of more flu and West Nile virus.

A record thaw has occurred in the Arctic, where polar ice sheets have melted three times faster than in the 1990s. In Greenland, the rate of melting is five times what it was 20 years ago.

Yet a United Nations summit in Qatar on climate change is likely to end Friday with no breakthroughs on global cooperation. Brazil’s chief negotiator cites a “mutual mistrust that is very clear” between industrialized and developing nations.

Despite wider use of alternative energy, fossil-fuel emissions are up 20 percent since 2000, the U.N. says, largely because of China’s rapid industrialization. New data show that only two of the planet’s top 10 polluters — the United States and Germany — spewed less heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2011, when global emissions rose another 3 percent, than in the previous year.

The only development expected to occur in Qatar is an extension of the 1997 Kyoto accord on emissions among 38 industrialized countries. Congress never ratified the agreement, and Russia, Japan, and Canada pulled out.

New Zealand announced before the U.N. talks began that it would not be part of the Kyoto treaty’s next phase. The biggest players left are the European Union and Australia, which account for only 15 percent of global climate emissions.

Negotiators in Qatar are laying the groundwork for a broad agreement that could be approved in 2015. But even if it is, it would not take effect until 2020.

The industrialized world is waiting for the United States to step up. President Obama and Mitt Romney largely ignored climate change during this year’s presidential campaign.

The Obama Administration can reassert itself on the issue with a meaningful cap-and-trade plan. That would allow industries to barter among themselves for emission credits, which offer flexibility.

The stakes are high for Ohio, because it is one of the most coal-reliant states. Climate change hurts this region in many ways, from farming to recreation to public health. But it is not just a local issue — it’s a global problem that will require global cooperation.

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