The climate cat-and-mouse game and Trump


Climate diplomacy is just war by other means. In fact, climate as diplomacy took birth for this purpose though the pretense at the surface is anything but. The initial momentum of the climate movement was Malthusian – directed at overconsumption of ‘resources’ and ‘overpopulation’ of the earth by the wrong types of human beings in developing countries. Paradoxically however, the movement incorporated globally negotiated treaty-making under the UN as an integral part of its design. This meant inviting the very targets of the Malthusians  to voluntarily subject themselves to the intended curbs—in growing crops, using forests and land, producing and using fossil fuels—essentially in all elements of modern life. This central, unresolved paradox has remained at the heart of the UNFCCC/IPCC process.

When things kicked off (at Rio de Janeiro) in 1992, the only way to entice developing countries to participate in the UNFCCC was via  (a) promises of a temporary reprieve and special permissions to continue using fossil fuels – the so-called principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities,’ and (b) dangling the twin carrots of technology transfer and financial aid to overcome the ravages of climate change. Developing countries like India and China, then utterly secure in their backwardness, were eager to accept these conditions. All one had to do was accept climate consensus formulations (‘the science’) to appear scientific, which was an attractive proposition to the global South. Once accepted the Rio template brought further benefits. They could band together in berating developed countries like the US and the UK for their ‘rampant consumerism,’ ‘capitalism,’ and ‘exploitation of resources.’ They could pretend to ‘care’ for ‘the environment.’ The ball of ’emission reduction’ was not yet in their court which made the moral posturing easier.

To be fair, as poor nations lacked leverage, there were direct participatory pressures on developing countries. If they chose to keep away from the UNFCCC/COP negotiations, they could find themselves subject to mandatory rules made in their absence.  The safety valve in all this was the knowledge that the US was neither about to transfer nuclear technology nor freely part with gobs of cash. The developed countries had their safety valves, too. For a good while, countries like Germany and Russia double-counted incidental large dips in their GDP toward the Kyoto protocol. In the US, the Senate proved to be an insurmountable barrier for climate activist legislation. Ironically, in climate circles, the knowledge/belief that neither India nor China would accept accept verifiable mandatory emission reduction targets has itself served as an inhibitory force. In other words, each party depends on the other to act in their self-interest in order to protect themselves from self-harm in the name of climate!

Developed countries use ‘the science’ to pursue Malthusian dreams of their environmentalist cohorts. Developing countries pretend at believing in the science to play at being the global left. Skepticism at the whole charade drops between the cracks. This has been the climate story over the past 22 years – of pantomime fools dancing around a Gordian knot.

There is, however, great danger even in play-acting in a Malthusian drama. At regular intervals, countries have found themselves paying a real price for the indulgence. The Climate Change Act in the UK is one such example. Written entirely by a college-level activist, the passage of the CCA exposed the weakness of ‘checks and balances’ in the UK and showed how trivial it was to being gamed. The EPA coal rules – the so-called ‘Clean Power Plan’ of the Obama administration in the US are a second example of calculated harm inflicted by a government on its own citizens. With Copenhagen, the UNFCCC/COP system entered an unstable phase. Here a hastily assembled alliance of countries BASIC fended off a binding agreement.  But the wall of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ was crumbling fast with the growth of the Indian, Brazilian and Chinese economies. Post-Copenhagen, the United States went to work breaking down the BASIC alliance and by 2015 had largely succeeded. Stung by failure, climate activists were under pressure to show the world they could succeed. India did not want to be seen as a lone villain obstructing a treaty. The Paris agreement was born.

With Paris, there were only two safety valves left standing. One, that developed countries would not actually cough up billions of dollars annually for ‘climate adaptation.’ Two, the US Senate or the political system would not ratify and implement an internationally imposed mandate of emissions reduction. It is at this juncture that Donald Trump has been elected. As Benny Peiser points in the Financial Post, if Trump carries out what he has proclaimed, there would be no free cash flowing toward developing countries in the guise of a climate fund. The Obama-era climate regulations could see themselves dismantled completely. These should provide enough excuses for developing countries—if they have the sense to recognize the opportunity—to disengage from economic self-harm and walk away from the precipice.  The abysmal failure of the Indian position at Marrakech should serve as yet another example that moral posturing on the climate brings zero tangible benefits to countries.

With Trump, and open climate skepticism, a global era of countries depending on others to act in self-interest in order to protect their own can finally come to a end.  The chapter of fake collective global climate guilt can be closed.