World leaders have been meeting for 29 years to try to curb global warming, and in that time Earth has become a much hotter and deadlier planet.
Trillions of tons of ice have disappeared over that period, the burning of fossil fuels has spewed billions of tons of heat-trapping gases into the air, and hundreds of thousands of people have died from heat and other weather disasters stoked by climate change, statistics show.
When more than 100 world leaders descended on Rio de Janeiro in 1992 for an Earth Summit to discuss global warming and other environmental issues, there was “a huge feeling of well-being, of being able to do something. There was hope really,” said Oren Lyons, faithkeeper of the Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, one of the representatives for Native Americans at the summit.
Now, the 91-year-old activist said, that hope has been smothered: “The ice is melting. ... Everything is bad. ... Thirty years of degradation.”
Data analyzed by The Associated Press from government figures and scientific reports shows “how much we did lose Earth,” said former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency chief William K. Reilly, who headed the American delegation three decades ago.
That Earth Summit set up the process of international climate negotiations that culminated in the 2015 Paris accord and resumes Sunday in Glasgow, Scotland, where leaders will try to ramp up efforts to cut carbon pollution.
Back in 1992, it was clear climate change was a problem “with major implications for lives and livelihoods in the future,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the AP this month. “That future is here and we are out of time.”
World leaders have hammered out two agreements to curb climate change. In Kyoto in 1997, a protocol set carbon pollution cuts for developed countries but not poorer nations. That did not go into effect until 2005 because of ratification requirements. In 2015, the Paris agreement made every nation set its own emission goals.
In both cases, the United States, a top-polluting country, helped negotiate the deals but later pulled out of the process when a Republican president took office. The U.S. has since rejoined the Paris agreement.