Good news is hard to find at this year's United Nations climate conference in Bonn, Germany. Diplomats from nearly 200 countries have gathered to review progress made on the 'historic' Paris climate accords, signed two years ago. But as the champagne-fueled self-congratulation of Paris recedes into memory, the agreement's underlying fraud is becoming obvious.
Why would the United States remain party to such an agreement? We shouldn’t have accepted its terms in the first place, and in an important sense, we didn’t. The U.S. Constitution requires the Senate to approve any treaty by a two-thirds supermajority, in part to prevent a president from making rash, politically motivated promises on the international stage that lack consensus support back home. Obama, knowing he did not have the Senate’s consent, chose to push ahead anyway. If reversing that mistake enrages some foreign diplomats, they have only themselves and their former negotiating partners in the Obama administration to blame.
The giveaway for the Paris charade is the refusal to set baselines. If nations are to hold one another accountable for progress on greenhouse-gas emissions, surely they must agree on a starting point from which to progress. Yet the framework for Paris pointedly omitted this requirement. Countries could calculate their own baselines however they chose, or provide none at all. Now, the pledges have themselves become baselines, and each country receives applause or condemnation in inverse proportion to its seriousness.
Instead, the debate devolved into the kind one otherwise hears about the UN Human Rights Council, a forum no one mistakes for a serious effort to advance human rights. If other countries are going to sit around discussing the climate, shouldn’t we at least attend? This is what Millennials might call the 'FOMO' (Fear of Missing Out) defense.
India, for instance, can now take enormous credit for HFC emissions supposedly forgone at almost no cost, instead of taking difficult (and real) action on carbon-dioxide emissions. Even better for India, the agreement includes 'climate finance' from developed nations to mitigate whatever costs it does incur. Who is paying, and how much? That decision will have to wait until next year. But the diet is going to start right after that. And when it does, what a 'landmark? moment it will be.
Unfortunately, not everyone was in on the joke. Determined to display 'leadership,? President Obama made the classic mistake of the kid who hears everyone is going skinny-dipping, strips naked, plunges into the water, and then turns to find his dry and still-modest peers laughing from the shore as they run off with his clothes. While everyone else both literally and figuratively mailed in their commitments, the president pledged a dramatic reduction in U.S. emissions.
Goalposts move all the time, but rarely are they disassembled and carted away, leaving the teams to circle aimlessly while the crowd roars and the commentators prattle on as if nothing had changed. That's what happened at the just-concluded Paris climate talks, which managed to produce an agreement but also marked the collapse of a 25-year effort to catalyze collective global action on climate change.
Kerry argued the deal had to be weak because anything stronger would require congressional approval and Congress would not approve. In other words, President Obama lacked popular support to pursue a climate deal, so he had to do a deal even worse than the one for which there was no support. How absurd.
If successfully spurring robust international action is the sine qua non of this nation's climate policy, and that is failing, then we have non. Yet proponents continue to argue that new regulations, subsidies, and mandates are ends unto themselves--that even if the mitigation of carbon-dioxide emissions will not itself produce meaningful benefits, we should regulate anyway because the impositions on the nation's energy sector will be good for the economy. This argument defies both common sense and empirical evidence. Climate policy that does not help the climate is not good policy.
If the West believed combatting climate change merits hobbling poorer countries against their will, it could coerce emissions cuts with threats of embargo or military force. Obviously, that should not and will not happen. But without it, dramatic cuts depend on as-yet-unidentified technological breakthroughs that a developing economy might prefer to fossil fuels.
To understand how the world's pledges can amount to essentially nothing, look at what developing countries--who will account for four-fifths of emissions this century--have offered. China committed its emissions will peak 'around 2030.? OK, but the federal government's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory suggested four years ago that China was already on pace to do just that.
The climate negotiators have no clothes. If making that observation and refusing to go along causes some embarrassment, those parading around naked have only themselves to blame.
My primary message to the committee is this: international climate negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) no longer bear a substantial relationship to the goal of sharply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Rather, the only likely achievement of the upcoming Paris conference (COP21) is a commitment by developed nations including the United States to transfer large sums of wealth to poorer nations.
If civilization hangs in the balance, then the developing world must somehow be coerced into emissions reductions. For instance, if coal plants are truly 'factories of death,' shouldn't a Coalition of the Willing bomb any plant that a country dares try to build? Archbishop Desmond Tutu has equated the 'immoral system[s]' of Apartheid and fossil-fuel consumption. If he's right, shouldn't an embargo, at least, be in the offing?
Fundamental economic and political challenges suggest that there is no plausible path to an agreement premised on collective action or compensation: developing nations that must bear the brunt of emissions reductions in any successful scenario cannot achieve those reductions while pursuing rapid economic growth; developed nations cannot sufficiently compensate developing ones for forgoing such growth. Evidence from recent negotiations, as well as preparations for the next round of talks, reinforces this conclusion.
The China problem is that 'cap-and-trade? matters for the cap, not the trade. Pundits are celebrating the proposed trading system, even though China made no new commitments to capping emissions, and its pre-existing commitments are essentially worthless.
Of course, under the popular rules of the climate debate, anyone downplaying climate risks is a 'denier,' while anyone overstating them is a 'passionate leader.' But even among those charging down that uneven playing field, de Blasio stands out for allowing his rhetorical momentum to carry him past the goal line, through the fence, under the bleachers--and off into the woods.
To opponents of action, the encyclical restates arguments heard before. To supporters, it poses uncomfortable questions about tradeoffs they prefer to hide from view.
Flimsy arguments for emissions reductions have become mainstream because they stand unopposed. Conservatives have allowed the debate to be framed as a binary choice between 'climate activism' and 'climate skepticism,' and they have associated themselves with the latter -- a position that becomes less and less tenable as more and more scientific evidence accumulates. This has been a serious mistake.
If carbon emissions actually had a quantifiable, linear, ton-by-ton cost then the Sophisticated Objection would make no sense because the value of action at home could be measured independent of what action was or was not taken abroad. If we gain the same benefit every time we reduce emissions by another ton, why would we care what China does? But of course, as Sunstein acknowledges by taking the Objection seriously in the first place, this is not how climate change works.