Two days ago, the 18th United Nations conference on climate change wrapped up. As they did at the previous 17 conferences, developing nations demanded that the United States and other developed countries pay them for the climate’s effects.

In short, the joke’s on us. And these U.N. conferences are becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Poor nations, including small islands, are seeking a new “international mechanism” to have developed nations pay for storm damage to their countries. This is based on the assumption that global warming is causing stronger hurricanes, typhoons, and the like, which is still unproven.

Heritage’s Brett D. Schaefer, Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs, and Nicolas Loris, the Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow, have a simple message for America’s leaders: “the U.S. is wasting millions of taxpayer dollars attending and financing these conferences.”

The main result of this year’s conference was extending the Kyoto Protocol, the international climate change agreement that has been in force since 1997, through 2020. The United States has never signed on to this agreement, which restricted greenhouse gas emissions in 37 industrialized countries.

But the Kyoto agreement has never put restrictions on China and India—two densely populated countries with growing economies—and other nations with emerging economies. Schaefer and Loris note that “even with perfect compliance and U.S. participation, Kyoto would not significantly arrest projected global warming.”

Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia opted out of the new extension last week. The Associated Press reports that this means the treaty now “covers only about 15 percent of global emissions.” As Schaefer and Loris explain:

[T]he basic approach is unworkable. The Kyoto Protocol essentially placed the entire economic burden of addressing climate change on a few dozen countries while asking nothing from more than 150 countries. Perhaps this makes sense if the industrialized countries alone could address the issue by reducing emissions, but that is impossible.

…For a number of reasons—including sluggish economies and a shift toward energy sources (such as natural gas, nuclear, or renewable energy) that emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions—most industrialized countries have seen their emissions stabilize or fall. In fact, U.S. emissions are at their lowest level since 1996, according to the U.N.

While the U.S. has reduced its emissions, other countries are busy increasing theirs—and demanding that the U.S. pay for storm damage around the world. China passed the U.S. as the largest source of emissions in 2006, and by 2009, its emissions were already 45 percent higher than America’s.

Instead of continuing this futile exercise, the U.S. should pursue more serious steps on its own, Schaefer and Loris write. America should:

  • Undertake independent efforts to more accurately determine the severity of climate change and verify U.N. claims.
  • Work with a smaller group of nations through informal arrangements such as the Major Economies Forum to undertake appropriate steps that are both cost effective and effective in reducing warming.
  • Refrain from attending future U.N. climate change conferences and call for a moratorium on conferences that emphasize financial transfers and reinforce the flawed, ineffective Kyoto methodology.
  • Resist and cease attempts to address climate change unilaterally. This includes removing onerous and unnecessary regulations on fossil fuels that are driving up the cost of energy, stopping wasteful and ineffective attempts to subsidize carbon-free energy sources, and preventing an implementation of a carbon tax. Attempting to address greenhouse gases unilaterally comes at great cost to the taxpayer and energy consumer for no meaningful environmental impact.

For far too long, the U.S. has played on the United Nations’ terms on climate change. It’s time to give up these failed negotiations, focus on protecting American taxpayers, and reject conferences that produce completely unserious plans.

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