U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry signed on to the 29-page negotiation framework at the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP21) on December 9, with little reporting in U.S. news sources.
In typical UN politics, this 29-page agreement is a framework of agreeing on how to negotiate the final agreement--and while that may sound confusing, the legalese of the 29-page agreement is far worse.
Furthermore, while the key players of the United States and European Union have joined the framework, the world's worst polluter, China, is seen as a spoiler at the conference--stalling at every chance possible.
China creates more greenhouse gases than the next two worst offenders -- the US and EU -- combined. Any plan without all three of the major polluters in agreement is likely doomed to failure.
A key feature of this framework is to create a deal that is ambitious and legally binding, but with a strong review every 5 years. Built-in review is something many previous climate treaties have lacked.
Worldwide, this conference comes at possibly one of the worst times, as global surpluses of oil have resulted in lower prices in oil-related energy. Alternative energy companies are failing on a daily basis, especially with the outlook for cheap oil continuing into 2016.
It's a difficult sell to lower oil-related pollution with alternative energy when the economics of low prices encourage oil consumption -- making alternative fuels and energy priced out of reach, comparatively.
It will be an even tougher sell back in America, where man-made climate change is usually bitterly fought along party lines. Democrats will hail this as a foreign policy victory, Republicans as a sovereignty disaster.
The effectiveness of this UN conference boils down to two issues: the 2016 American presidential election and the willingness of the Chinese to join in.
And while this might make this conference a colossal waste of time, it is at least putting the issue in front of world leaders again -- but more importantly, assessing blame for the world's worst acts of pollution.
At some point, the world will have to make it economically unsound to continue polluting (of any type), through trade agreements, sanctions, and international treaties. Otherwise, any attempt we make may be too little, too late.