Energy & Environment

The US-China climate agreement hangover

Well, that didn’t take long. “That” is the easily predictable, predicted, obvious, inevitable, slow-motion collapse of the much-ballyhooed U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change, the topic only a few weeks ago of thunderous applause from all of the usual climate-industry suspects. Also obvious from the beginning was the wholly political nature of the agreement: It never had and was destined never to have anything whatever to do with future temperatures and attendant physical effects if any, or with climate science. The only mild surprise is that this rather crude display of Chinese contempt for climate political correctitude comes smack dab in the middle of the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Lima, Peru, amid the partying, restaurant hopping, moral preening and apocalyptic condescension of the true believers now planning the 21st COP in Paris late next year. Could this not have waited until, say, New Year’s Eve?

{mosads}More about that below. For now, put aside the utter irrelevance of climate policies generally and of the U.S.-China agreement in particular, an eternal truth also obvious from the very beginning of the climate debate: Even a global 30 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — an impossibility — would avert less than a half of a degree in global temperature increases by 2100, under the highest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assumptions about the climate sensitivity of the atmosphere. Put aside the fact that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol collapsed almost immediately because efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are fantastically expensive even apart from their trivial predicted effects. Put aside the utter failure of the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Change Conference — the 15th COP — actually to achieve or even approach the much-advertised “promise” on the part of the “developed countries” to

fund actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change in developing countries. Developed countries promised to provide US$30 billion for the period 2010-2012, and to mobilize long-term finance of a further US$100 billion a year by 2020 from a variety of sources.

And put aside the laughable achievements of the 18th COP in Doha, Qatar in 2012, where the participants, as summarized by the proponents, “strengthened their resolve,” “set out a timetable,” “streamlined the negotiations,” “emphasized the need to increase their ambition to cut greenhouse gases,” “launched a new commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol,” and “made further progress towards establishing the financial and technology support and new institutions.” Wow. Precisely how much are taxpayers around the world paying for this?

Never mind all that. About that $100 billion per year — the UN Green Climate Fund — that the developed economies are supposed to transfer by 2020 to the developing economies as compensation for the adoption of greenhouse gas policies, that is, acceptance of expensive energy: The Chinese have not forgotten. The fund thus far has received pledges (not actual cash) totaling $9.7 billion. Su Wei, the Chinese climate negotiator, while promising — cross his heart, etc. — to reduce the “carbon” intensity of Chinese gross domestic product and to plant more trees, wasted little time criticizing “the progress industrialized nations have made to boost climate-related aid to $100 billion a year by 2020.” Su: The pledges thus far are “far from adequate,” and “$10 billion” (as noted, actually $9.7 billion) “is just [one-tenth] of that objective,” and “we do not have any clear road map of meeting that target for 2020.”

And then the comedy highlight from Su: Climate aid is “a trust-building process.” From the Chinese! Wow again.

Not to be outdone, the head of the Indian delegation in Lima, Susheel Kumar, argued that the “developed countries should compensate developing nations for the effects their greenhouse gas emissions have had on climate.” Accordingly, compensation is needed not only for the future costs of expensive energy, but also for the (illusory) effects of past greenhouse gas emissions by the developed world. Thus begins, or continues, the competition for snout privileges at the climate-change trough, a race given huge impetus by the obvious political reality that President Obama narrowly, and much of the developed nations’ political establishments more generally, are desperate for a “deal” with which to burnish their legacies, notwithstanding, again, the trivial effects of such future policies even under the most generous assumptions.

Back to the timing of Su’s demand for financial transfers both far larger and far more concrete. That this criticism of the U.S. and the Europeans comes during the pomp, noise and cacophony of the Lima gathering is no accident: The thinly veiled threat is that China will do what China chooses to do unless the checks actually arrive in the mail. Can anyone actually believe that Congress or Parliament or the Bundestag or the Diet actually will pony up such cash? Note that even in terms of reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. in Lima is unwilling to agree to specific reductions for each nation, obviously because such “mandatory” cuts in practice will prove far more binding on the U.S. than on others. And: a fortiori in terms of the financial side of this game.

Soap operas apparently are all the rage these days, as illustrated by the professional background of the newly confirmed U.S. ambassador to Hungary. Accordingly: Will China and India and the other major underdeveloped emitters of greenhouse gases commit economic suicide so as to satisfy the demands of the environmental left? Will the major developed nations commit economic suicide by shifting toward fantastically expensive energy and by imposing even higher taxes upon themselves so as to achieve a deal? Will the U.S-China romance last? Will the climate industry achieve its dreams? Or will we someday read about the 100th COP? No, no, no, no and yes.

Zycher is the John G. Searle scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Tags Climate change Kyoto Protocol United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

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