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America should promote economic freedom at COP26


When the international climate conference (COP26) convenes next week in Glasgow, Scotland, President Biden is expected to argue that America should lead on climate. We agree with the president. Unfortunately, the path the administration is taking is, in many ways, in direct contrast to the path the administration should be taking.

The facts and evidence are clear. America has reduced more absolute emissions since 2005 than any other country, all while reducing the average cost of energy. We made these strides because of innovation and the free market. Despite this evidence of companies responding to consumer demand for clean energy, President Biden has chosen crippling regulations, mandates, and subsidies to pick winners and losers, which is hurting the American economy. We should reduce emissions, not energy choices, and unleash free markets to allow the American entrepreneurial spirit to achieve the goal of a cleaner world.

Since taking office the president has made it clear he wants to establish U.S leadership on climate change, but what he has failed to acknowledge is that the U.S. is already the global leader in lowering absolute emissions and combatting climate change. And we’ve achieved this through free market innovation, not burdensome regulations. This conference presents an opportunity for America to show other countries what has worked for us, all while lowering energy prices. Let’s double down on performance, not counterproductive policy.

The Paris agreement, which many in the international community hailed as a breakthrough, is falling short. Countries are failing to meet their pledges (unless you count China increasing their emissions since they’re  permitted under the Agreement to do so until 2030)) and no major economy (including the entire G20) has an ambitious enough plan to meet their respective obligations. Ambition is only as good as the roadmap to achieve it.

We cannot ignore the fact that most of the future emissions will come from developing nations and, consequently, they are essential to global decarbonization. We also cannot ignore the reality that these countries desperately care about better living standards and aren’t going to tell hundreds of millions of people they can’t have air conditioning. Developing countries are reasonably hesitant to constrain their economic growth for a smaller carbon footprint. Fortunately, there’s a solution to this apparent dilemma: Innovation and economic freedom.

The most effective way to help developing countries pursue green technologies is to make it in their economic interest to do so. Policies that provide the foundation for investment and innovation will help both grow their economies while flattening the emissions curve faster. Many affordable, clean energy sources and technologies exist today, and could be deployed very quickly if policymakers reorientated their priorities, budgets and regulations. That’s encouraging news for the future of our planet. We also need more innovation, both in the U.S. and around the world. Policies rooted in limited government and the free market, not expansive government and central planning, will empower the private sector to continue to lead the way to find profitable, green solutions.

The case for economic freedom is powerful. Using The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom and Yale’s Environmental Performance Index, we found a strong correlation between economic freedom and environmental performance. Free economies are clean economies. In fact, they are twice as clean as unfree ones. Free societies have greater wealth and dedicate more resources to environmental protection. They also have strong institutions that protect private property rights and respect the role of civil society. Occasionally individuals will claim that capitalism is actually to blame for environmental damage then turn a blind eye to the ballooning emissions and environmental damage being caused by China. America makes energy with less emissions, environmental harm, and better labor standards than anywhere else in the world, and particularly more than centralized economies.

Despite the shaky track record of international climate negotiations, we’re headed to Glasgow to deliver a message that’s not grounded in alarmism but instead one of concern and optimism. We must address the risks climate change poses to our planet, but we also must acknowledge that many policies proposed today will harm American taxpayers, energy consumers, U.S. competitiveness and not lower global emissions.

Bottom-up solutions that empower people not governments will significantly reduce the risks of climate change. We’ll see more rapid, widespread deployment of low and zero-carbon energy and technologies when we have more rapid deployment of economic freedom.

The next iteration of country emissions targets and how much countries are willing to spend will dominate much of conversation at COP26. There will be more talk of keeping warming to 2 degrees or 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. But setting targets means nothing if we don’t have a sound strategy to meet them, let alone verify claimed emissions targets from countries that have a questionable track record on transparency.

America, and the world’s, best hope is to reject the advice of central planners and regulatory minders, and to fully embrace the proven principles of economic freedom that lead to innovation. Creativity, not coercion, is the best way to protect our natural and economic environment. 

Rep. John Curtis represents Utah’s 3rd District and is the chair of the Conservative Climate Caucus. Drew Bond is the co-founder and President of C3 Solutions and served as a senior advisor to the Department of Energy under President George Bush.

Tags Climate change mitigation Climate change policy Emissions reduction Joe Biden

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