This week in Bali the curtain rises on another round of United Nations talks to slow global warming. The effort, though noble, is largely irrelevant to the urgent task of cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. The countries that care the most about successful U.N. talks are a small and shrinking part of the problem. Those that matter most—notably China, which in 2007 became the world’s largest emitter of warming gases—have exempted themselves from any regulation of their effluent. The Bali agenda offers no route around this impasse and will probably make it harder to solve in the future.
The gorilla in room at all climate talks is China’s staggering growth powered by a seemingly unsatiable appetite for energy from coal, a big source of carbon. Fearful that taming coal could hiccup the country’s economic growth, China has steadfastly refused to curtail its emissions. Nor is it even clear that Beijing could enforce limits if it actually tried to impose them across the Chinese economy. The European Union and Japan are trying in Bali to set the stage for fresh commitments to control emissions that would update the commitments they adopted a decade ago under the Kyoto Protocol. But these nations account for barely one fifth of the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, a new study by the International Energy Agency suggests that by 2030, China alone could account for more than one quarter of all the world emissions.