Breaking news Saturday in Paris from the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change: National leaders described the agreement finally reached as “an historic breakthrough”.
Oops. My mistake. That was from the 13th COP in Bali in 2007. Then there was the 15th COP in Copenhagen in 2009, which achieved an “unprecedented breakthrough… to curb greenhouse gas emissions.” Of course, the 16th COP in Cancun in 2010 produced a “breakthrough deal”. Not to be outdone, the 17th COP in Durban in 2011 reached a “breakthrough on [a] course for [a] future accord.” The 19th COP in Warsaw in 2013 yielded a “foundation for a global agreement.” The 20th COP in Lima in 2014 produced a “global warming agreement… [that] would for the first time commit all countries… to [cut] emissions.” And now, finally, at long last, the 21st COP just this past Saturday “reached a landmark accord that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”
So: Climate negotiation breakthroughs are a dime a dozen. They live or die in the details, and the thunderous applause drowning out even the noise from the innumerable private jets departing Paris has obscured three crucial parameters that will make this agreement only the latest exercise in delusion: Precisely what has been agreed, who actually will pay the costs, and the degree to which the “planet” has been “saved.”
The Agreement. The parties promise to take the actions necessary to limit warming by 2100 to 2 degrees above (assumed) pre-industrial levels. (There also is a secondary 1.5 degree goal, about which more below.) But there is no target for global reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; instead, the agreement simply lumps together the plans submitted by the individual governments (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or INDCs), any of which may or may not represent actual future emissions reductions. For example, the Chinese commitment is for an emissions peak “around 2030,” after which…what, precisely? And how high will that “peak” be? More generally, many of the INDCs promise GHG reductions relative to a “business as usual” scenario, that is, relative to a future emissions path unconstrained by any policies at all. Such a commitment can be “achieved” by overestimating future economic growth, and thus emissions, over the commitment period; when growth proves slower than projected, so will emissions. Commitment fulfilled!
Not to worry, say the proponents: The agreement puts in place a review process and re-calibration of targets every five years. That means, obviously, that the initial promises might not be met; precisely how is it that the revisions five years from now, and five years after that, ad infinitum, will prove any more meaningful than the “landmark” promises just made? What is blatant is that this “review” process has nothing to do with emissions reductions; it is instead a mechanism guaranteeing endless meetings and COPs for the climate bureaucracy into the indefinite future. As an aside, the monitoring is to be done in part with satellite surveillance; am I alone in noticing the Big Brother flavor of this exercise?
The Costs. The effort to reduce GHG emissions would impose costs approximating 1 percent of global GDP, or roughly $600 billion to $750 billion per year, inflicted disproportionately upon the world’s poor. Accordingly, the agreement promises a “Green Climate Fund,” beginning at $100 billion and growing annually. This wealth transfer is the sine qua non for the less-developed economies, for whom inexpensive energy is both an absolute requirement for escaping poverty, and utterly inconsistent with “climate” policies. An example: The Chinese “contribution” document makes it clear that:
The… developed countries shall… provide new, additional, adequate, predictable and sustained financial support to developing countries for their enhanced actions. [The agreement] shall provide for quantified financing targets and a roadmap to achieve them. The scale of financing should increase yearly starting from 100 billion U.S. dollars per year from 2020…
Thus far, $10.2 billion has been “announced” — promised officially or unofficially — and $5.9 has been “signed,” or, formally committed. Will the wealthier nations pony up more and more even as climate policies make energy more expensive and their economies poorer? Don’t bet on it. The U.S. share would begin at $20 billion per year, but Congress has refused even a down payment of $500 million. And: Can anyone believe that a welfare system for the world’s poor will facilitate the desperate need to escape grinding poverty through economic growth?
How Much Planetary Saving Are We Buying? Is it not rather curious that amid all the applause for the breakthrough agreement on emissions goals, nothing has been asserted about the temperature effect in 2100 of the notional emissions reductions “promised” by the signatories? Well, yes; curious it is. So let’s apply the Environment Protection Agency’s climate model to that task. Under assumptions highly favorable to the conventional climate view, the U.S. commitment (about a 27 percent reduction in GHG emissions below 2005 levels by 2025) would reduce temperatures in 2100 by about twenty-five one-thousandths of a degree. If we assume a 20 percent cut by China by 2030, that gets us another two-tenths of a degree. Ditto for a 30 percent cut by the rest of the industrialized world by 2030. Add in another 20 percent cut by the rest of the developing world (an impossibility): another tenth of a degree at the very most. So the grand total for the “breakthrough” Paris agreement, if we suspend disbelief on a number of fronts, is 0.525 degrees. That is “saving the planet”?
The Paris agreement establishes a secondary goal of limiting warming by 2100 to 1.5 degrees. Given that the evidence on climate phenomena is inconsistent with the “saving the planet” view (Table 12.4 and attendant analysis), and given the fact that temperatures have been roughly flat since about 2002, this secondary goal is a tacit admission that limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees already has been “achieved” without any GHG emissions policies at all. The climate industry must find more work to do, and since its central ideological goal is an elimination of fossil fuels, the planet will never be saved and there always will be meetings to attend.
Remember the Kellogg-Briand treaty of August 1928? Also signed in Paris, interestingly enough, it outlawed war. It did nothing of the kind, of course, and the latest follies of the international politicians and bureaucrats will not save the planet. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.