This week 193 governments from around the world will convene in Cancun, Mexico, for the United Nations's annual climate change conference. They're hoping to lay foundations, set up frameworks and install building blocks toward practically addressing the dire consequences of global warming.
Official delegates and representatives of non-governmental organizations are expected to address mounting evidence that the Earth's climate is rapidly changing and taking a dramatic toll on both rich and poor nations across the planet.
Meteorologists are expected to report that 2010 will be tied for the hottest year globally since records began 131 years ago, while agronomists are to report on shifting weather patterns destabilizing the world's food supply and access to clean water. Such patterns could lead to mass migrations as farmers flee drought or flood-prone regions.
Last year, President Obama personally attended the summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, joining other world leaders in drafting an agreement that set an aim of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius. However, details of how to achieve such goals were never ratified by the U.S.
During that summit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed that the U.S. would contribute toward a fund worth $100 billion per year by 2020 to help poor countries worst hit by climate change.
The Obama administration has not been able to win passage of domestic climate legislation due to opposition from the Republican Party, which recently won a majority of seats in the House. The GOP has vowed to oppose a nationwide plan to restrict carbon emissions, which cause global warming, and are highly unlikely to ratify any international treaty. A number of Republicans in the new Congress claim to not even believe the fact of climate change.
Ratifying any new or old treaty seems unlikely with a far more conservative Congress looming.
Although last year's hopes for a binding treaty to limit greenhouse gas emissions fell short, world leaders hope to advance key areas this year toward its eventual achievement. Many hope to clear the way in mobilizing billions of dollars for developing countries and supply them with green technology to help shift from fossil fuels.
At this year's summit scientists say a program to counter deforestation, called Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, is likely to win support. Forests are important because they absorb carbon dioxide, the most troublesome greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere.
An agreement by various groups to develop a plan for the payment of up to $38 billion by developed nations to support forest preservation in poor nations is in the works.
Syed Mahmood Nasir, a delegate from Pakistan told Voice of America news, the U.S. government broadcaster, that disaster in his homeland has convinced people of the urgent need to confront global warming. "After the recent floods it has become the main concern, because the floods were so devastating, and, now, people are seeing that these were due to climate change," he said.
Eighty-five countries have made specific pledges to reduce emissions or constrain their growth, but those promises amount to far less than required to keep temperatures from rising to potentially dangerous levels.
Developing nations say they are focused on setting in motion needed funding for more vulnerable countries. However the U.S. says it won't move until China agrees to some form of reliable third-party inspection system. The U.S. has insisted it will agree to binding pollution limits only if China also accepts legal limitations.
China is now the world's biggest polluter but it's also the biggest investor in renewable energy. Still, China still faces widespread poverty and argues they bear no historic responsibility for the global problem. Despite a lack of any signs pointing to a possible treaty with the U.S., two recent studies note that China's investment in green technology has outpaced that of America.
Analysts say the current negotiations are similar to those made under the landmark 1997 Kyoto Protocol treaty that mandated industrialized nations slash greenhouse emissions. The U.S. signed the treaty, but Congress never ratified it, arguing that the treaty did not demand that China or other emerging powers also cut emissions. It expires at the end of 2012.
Meanwhile U.S. envoy Todd Stern said at a press conference that the U.S. is "standing behind the pledge" of cutting emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels in the next decade. He added the long-term goal is a legally binding treaty that allows industrialized and developing countries to take different types of targets but holds them all legally accountable.