Is there really a ‘better deal’ in the offing?
Mr. Trump yesterday announced that he would withdraw the U.S. from the international climate agreement reached in Paris in late 2015, but would seek to renegotiate it so as to achieve a “better deal.” And his disparagement of the “Green Climate Fund” — a planned $100 billion wealth transfer from the developed economies to the developing ones — was unusually clear by the standards of Trumpian rhetoric.
And it took only minutes, literally, after Mr. Trump’s speech for all of the usual suspects to begin screaming, again literally. We are cooking the planet! The future of mankind is at a tipping point! Science!
Translation: The U.S. should stay in an agreement that would have virtually no impact on future temperatures, but at a very large cost to be inflicted disproportionately upon the world’s poor, in order to avert a climate “crisis” for which there is no evidence, literally (am I Joe Biden?), on the basis of greenhouse-gas-emissions promises that are unenforceable and meaningless as actually written. And by the way, the U.S. can increase its economic competitiveness by driving its energy costs up. Wow.
So how happy should we critics of the climate industry and the environmental Left and its myriad arguments and nostrums be? Answer: Sort of happy, no small achievement in the Beltway, but not nearly as much so as could have been the case.
First, the single best point made by Mr. Trump: The Paris agreement is all pain and no gain, regardless of one’s view of climate policy generally, as the future temperature effect of the agreement would be effectively unmeasurable — 0.17 of a degree by 2100 if the agreement were to be honored strictly, to be achieved at a cost of at least 1 percent of global GDP every year. The environmental Left simply cannot refute this — it comes from the EPA’s own climate model under assumptions highly favorable to the Paris agreement — and so every debate over Mr. Trump’s decision should begin and end with this point.
Let the proponents of Paris explain how this agreement can satisfy the parameters of any rational benefit/cost test. Trust me when I predict, based upon much experience, that they will descend into a babble of infantilisms about international leadership.
Second: The president’s criticism of the Green Climate Fund is absolutely correct. The climate industry has been arguing with a straight face for years that higher costs for conventional energy would strengthen the U.S. economy by making renewables and other expensive energy more competitive, thus allowing the U.S. to lead the world transition toward a “clean energy” future. Put aside the absurdity of every component of that argument. Put aside the implied need for an endless series of global five-year plans. Notice instead that the very same increase in conventional-energy costs that would be great for the U.S. would be a problem for the developing economies, one sufficiently serious that the Green Climate Fund is necessary. So in the view of the climate industry and the international bureaucracy, the answer to poverty in the developing world is higher energy costs combined with green welfare. Is it possible that they actually believe this? Or are they more interested in enhanced power and resources for themselves?
Notice also that the Green Climate Fund is supposed to raise $100 billion per year; thus far a total of about $10 billion has been “pledged.” Under a Paris-type global regime, it is easy to predict that energy costs will rise sharply — take a good look at the German experience — and economic growth will weaken. Will that increase or reduce the willingness of the developed world to transfer wealth to the poorer countries? The question answers itself.
It may be the case that Mr. Trump, perhaps shrewdly, has negated all of the “better deal” renegotiation blather simply by ending the Green Climate Fund masquerade. Without it, negotiations until the end of time will not induce the Indians and the Chinese and the other developing economies to punish themselves with higher energy costs. No more Paris, no more U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, and no additional subsidies for Third World corrupticrats. The horror!
Third: The larger problem is that Mr. Trump’s “better deal” approach does nothing to challenge the assumptions and empty assertions of the international climate Left. The UNFCCC remains. The Paris agreement as a formality remains, the terms of which now are subject to revision, an outcome that does not force the climate industry to justify itself. Instead, we will have into the indefinite future a negotiation process with conferences of the parties, endless meetings financed by taxpayers, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio–style hypocrisy, and full employment for the lawyers, bureaucrats, academics, and myriad other human leeches that are proud to be citizens of International Climatopia. As for full employment: Don’t forget the luxury resorts and upscale restaurants that will cater to all of them, even as they look down with sneering condescension upon the ordinary people who finance their lifestyles.
Finally: Among the many constitutional depredations advanced by Barack Obama, the erosion of the separation of powers stands high among them. Mr. Trump’s exit from Paris does nothing to reverse that effect, as a mere exit and demand for renegotiation preserves the fiction that Paris is only an executive agreement, and not a treaty requiring ratification by the U.S. Senate. The vastly better course would have been for Mr. Trump to submit the Paris agreement to the Senate for ratification, strengthening our constitutional institutions while condemning Paris to the death that it deserves so richly.
• The Paris emissions promises are incorporated in “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions,” which few supporters of the agreement seem actually to have examined. Apart from the utter absence of an enforcement mechanism, most of the INDCs promise greenhouse-gas emissions cuts relative to a “business as usual” baseline, that is, relative to a future emissions path unconstrained by any policies at all. Since emissions are closely correlated with economic growth, a nation can “achieve” its promise by overestimating future economic growth slightly; when future growth proves lower than projected, the same will be true for emissions. Thus will the “commitments” be met without any actual change in underlying emissions behavior at all. INDC fulfilled!
• The Chinese commitment is particularly amusing. They promise that their greenhouse-gas emissions will peak “around 2030.” How high will that peak be? No one knows. What will their emissions be after the peak? No one knows.
• Accordingly, a “renegotiated” Paris will change the promises, but not the outcomes. Suppose the Chinese promise an actual emissions cut of, say, 20 percent by 2030. What will anyone do if they fail to achieve it? This question too answers itself.
• Notwithstanding the empty assertions from the climate industry, there is no evidence of a looming crisis. Surface temperatures have been roughly flat since the early 2000s. The satellite record is very similar. The record of temperature anomalies since the late 19th century does not correlate well with increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations; how, for example, do the proponents of emissions reductions propose to explain the warming from 1910 through roughly 1940?
• Almost all of the climate models have overestimated the recent temperature record. Global temperatures appear to be on a long-term upward trajectory, but the degree to which that trend is anthropogenic is far from clear, as the earth since roughly 1850 has continued to emerge from the Little Ice Age. The degree to which warming over, say, 1977–98 was anthropogenic is unsettled in the scientific literature; and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth assessment report (AR5) has reduced its estimated range of the effect in 2100 of a doubling of greenhouse-gas concentrations from 2.0–4.5 to 1.5–4.5 degrees C.
• There is little evidence of serious climate effects attendant upon increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations. Increases in sea levels have been roughly constant at about 3.3 mm per year since the early 1990s. There appears to be a close correlation between sea levels and the El Niño/Southern Oscillation. The data presented in the IPCC AR5 for the 20th century are not consistent with the crisis view, and increases in sea levels appear to have been more or less constant for the last 8,000 years.
• The data on the Arctic and Antarctic sea-ice extents are mixed. Relative to the 1981–2010 average, the Arctic sea ice in recent years crudely is at or below the bottom of the 95 percent confidence interval surrounding that mean, although the newest data show that the 2017 Arctic sea ice is at the same level as in 2006. For the Antarctic, recent years are above or at the top of the confidence interval. There is some evidence that the eastern Antarctic ice sheet (about two-thirds of the continent) is gaining mass, while the western ice sheet and the peninsula are losing mass, with a net gain for the continent as a whole. There does not appear to be an accepted explanation for this phenomenon in the peer-reviewed literature.
• There has been no trend in total U.S. tornado activity since 1954, and a declining trend in strong-to-violent tornadoes. There has been no trend in the frequency of tropical cyclones since the early 1970s, no trend in the frequency of global hurricanes, and no trend in tropical accumulated cyclone energy (crudely, the destructiveness of cyclones and the cyclone season), but an increase in accumulated cyclone energy in 2016 to the level observed in 2006. The annual number of U.S. wildfires shows no trend since 1985. The Palmer Drought Severity Index shows no trend since 1895. There is no correlation between U.S. flooding and increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations. IPCC in the AR5 is deeply dubious (Table 12.4) about the various severe effects often hypothesized (or asserted) as future impacts of increasing greenhouse-gas concentrations.
Notice also that under Paris, monitoring of emissions is to be done in part with satellite surveillance; am I alone in noticing the Big Brother flavor of this exercise?
In any event, Paris or no Paris, whether renegotiated or not, the central ideological goal of the climate industry is an elimination of fossil fuels. Accordingly, the planet will never be saved and the goalposts will be moved continually. Even if renegotiated to put “America First,” the entire Paris/UNFCCC process is silly and destructive as a strategy to engender environmental improvement, but it works beautifully as a mechanism to transform the climate industry into a perpetual-motion machine. Mr. Trump would have been well advised to reject the entire framework.
— Benjamin Zycher is the John G. Searle Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.