RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Nations of the world have been negotiating over climate treaties for almost 20 years and so far, there's been no discernable benefit to the atmosphere. It seemed just possible, at a U.N. meeting two years ago in Copenhagen, that there was a glimmer of hope. Nations weren't going for a binding treaty, but some pledged to take serious action anyway.
President Obama stood before the tense meeting and promised that the United States would do its part.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Almost all the major economies have put forward legitimate targets, significant targets, ambitious targets. And I'm confident that America will fulfill the commitments that we have made: cutting our emissions in the range of 17 percent by 2020, and by more than 80 percent by 2050, in line with final legislation.
HARRIS: Ambitious targets, indeed, but listen again to the caveat at the end of his sentence.
OBAMA: ...in line with final legislation.
HARRIS: In other words, the promise to cut emissions was contingent on Congress passing an aggressive cap-and-trade bill. But that 2,000-page bill went into the trash instead of onto the president's desk. The Great Recession briefly achieved what Congress didn't; national emissions fell for a short time. But no longer, says Kevin Kennedy at the World Resources Institute.
KEVIN KENNEDY: Starting in 2010 it looks like we're starting to see an up-tick again. And you would expect to see emissions continuing to increase in a business-as-usual case, out to 2020.