He’s done it. Donald Trump has taken the United States out of the Paris agreement.
Trump’s administration, perhaps predictably, employed the unfairness of Paris to pull out of the accord. But the question remains: is a fair Paris-like agreement possible? Or, even more fundamentally – should a Paris-like agreement be allowed at all?
Under Paris, if India or China built a coal power-plant, you wouldn’t hear ‘India adds power generation capacity, x million connected to the grid for the first time.’ Instead, the headlines would read: ‘India expected to fail meeting Paris target, expected to hit threshold for penalties soon.’
That would have been the real, disastrous legacy: an full-scale ethical inversion. Any positive would have been turned into a negative. That is the intended goal of the climate movement: an agreed-upon global constraint on energy use and a Malthusian corruption of the imperatives of modern life.
Dishearteningly, nearly everyone in the climate debate has fallen into the same rut. ‘Paris is a bad agreement because it won’t accomplish anything for the climate.’
Does this mean that a global arrangement that actually chokes off fossil fuel use enough to measurably impact climate would be a good one? Assuming the model calculations to be correct…?
For over two decades, developing countries hid securely behind the ‘common but differentiated responsibility’ curtain. Post-Copenhagen, their own development was turned against them by the Obama administration under John Kerry and Todd Stern. With the toehold of not having to make any sacrifices in the present, India and China boldly auctioned off their economic independence at the altar of Paris. India would continue business-as-usual, gets loads of free money from the Green Climate Fund, and provide access to domestic ‘markets’ for solar power, ‘microgrids,’ and spread subsidy largesse around. In return, it would come under a measurement and verification regime in the not-too distant future.
The climate activists make no bones about it – controlling energy use in the developing world was the real prize. This is Politico on the real ‘triumph’ of Paris:
The real triumph of Paris wasn’t America’s promises; it was the serious commitments from China, India and other developing nations that had previously insisted on their right to burn unlimited carbon until their economies caught up to the developed world.
The counter-argument from skeptically-minded lukewarmers, like Matt Ridley, was that this was terribly unfair to the poor in the developing world. Yes it would be, but the question remains: are the poor in India special? Compared to the poor in Scotland? or Pittsburgh?
Above all, ‘Paris’ was a testament to the vanity of international leaders at a particular moment in history – Obama, Cameron, Hollande and Modi.
Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement has called India and China’s bluff. It has reminded countries that to pursue self-interest is the best policy. Trump has reminded them not to chase mirages of ‘leadership’ at the ‘global stage.’ Milksops offered as bait to the vain will not feed the poor.
One of the oft-repeated words in climate negotiation-speak is ‘ambition’. Ambition refers to how much cutting of carbon emissions (and consequently economic damage) a country is willing to commit to in negotiations (the COPs). ‘Ambition’ for Paris appears to have prematurely gone flaccid, an indicator being the irrepressible Christiana Figueres‘ plans for 2030 for a CO2-cutting treaty to avert ‘2C’.
The climate negotiation troupe is made of a trifecta of nationally-selected bureaucrat representatives, non-governmental groups, and media agencies. A cardinal point in its structure lies in each thinking the others to be responsible for ‘ambition’. But this is fundamentally irreconcilable with the parties’ individual aims and motives. Countries and blocs participate to safeguard their self-interests, NGOs and media organs contribute to noise and propagation of the pantomime. In other words, in reality, there is no ambition within the UNFCCC system. Climate activists bide their time hoping for a perfect storm of circumstance, leadership failure and true belief to precipitate a dissolution of countries’ defenses.
With the above, the real dealing, maneuvering and re-positioning take place behind-the-scenes, well in advance of the conference of parties (COPs). To get a sense, I would recommend Benny Peiser’s excellent summation of the state-of-play. Briefly, there are key indicators to suggest no ambitious outcome can be expected from Paris.
First, China has its agreement with the United States as demonstration of its ‘commitment’. The United States itself, under President Barack Obama, will no doubt valiantly present its environmental agency rules as proof. Recognizing the fiasco of its own position within the Kyoto Protocol, the EU has walked back from its traditional unilateral commitment to emissions reduction to a conditional one. The EU’s requirement for emission-reduction is conditional on a legally binding international treaty, to which China, India and the US Senate present a near-insurmountable barrier. As ever, India has re-iterated its right to development via fossil-fuel use and questioned the lack of concrete steps about their own emissions from the US and EU. The end result: a hodge-podge of national measures that individual countries can hold up en-route to a defensibly failed Paris.
Peiser’s article makes clear the constant presence of the UNFCCC has acted as an evolutionary force in international negotiations. Countries have learned to accommodate and incorporate ‘climate’ into so-called business-as-usual functioning rather than the opposite.
Economic damage from man-made ‘climate change’ is illusory whereas damage from man-made ‘policies’ to fight the said change is real. Damage from man-made climate change will come in the future whereas damage from man-made policies to fight the change will be immediate. Token measures will not result in reduced human carbon dioxide emissions whereas significant reduction cannot happen without affecting large numbers of people in the present. Babbling about future global tail risk would appear dense when parts of the present-day world face ongoing and slow-moving catastrophes now.
Is this controversial? The answer is yes – if you’re trapped in the alarmists’ camp, believe in Nicholas Stern, and imagine like marooned Japanese soldiers that World War II is still raging (see picture above).
Setting aside the skepticism in the first statement, Richard Tol provides an excellent synthesis of the climate change policy debate. It is probably the best you will read for the year. The international climate diplomacy community has invested decades in trying to solve the imaginary climate problem. Whatever the outcome of ‘Paris‘ may be, they are not about to simply disappear with nothing left to do. It is likely the world will need to grapple with the impacts of climate policymakers to come in the foreseeable future. As Paris approaches – the costs will be high, the rhetoric shrill and the crescendo unbearable. Skulduggery and subversion of democracy, guaranteed.
The traffic-addicted AndTheresPhysics has picked up on the article in ham-handed fashion and squirted his wisdom in the usual manner pretending to disagree with Tol while agreeing with nearly all his points. If a recent run-in with the physicist was any indication, it is not clear he understands applying self-punitive carbon dioxide reduction constitutes a real present-day harm, at all.