Saving the planet has never been so easy.
The Paris climate talks concluded in a rousing round of self-congratulation over an agreement that, we are told, is the first step toward keeping Earth habitable. If generating headlines and press releases about making history were the metric for anything, Paris might be as consequential — if misbegotten — as advertised.
The fact is that Paris is very meta. The agreement is about the agreement, never mind what’s in it or what its true legal force is — namely, nil. Paris is a legally binding agreement not to have legally binding limits on emissions. It might be the most worthless piece of paper since the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war — about a decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.
Politico reported that the talks were almost derailed at the last minute by the accidental insertion of the word “shall” deep in the text, which, by implying a legal obligation, was to be avoided at all costs (the U.S. Senate would never give its assent to a legally binding treaty). The U.S. scrambled to change the offending word to “should.”
The Paris summit operated on the principle of CBDRILONCWRC, or “Common but Differentiated Responsibility in Light of National Circumstances With Respective Capability.” That means nothing was actually mandated on anyone because that proved — understandably enough, dealing with all the countries in the world — completely unworkable.
Instead, countries came up with so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. That’s climate bureaucratese for “You make up your emissions target, whatever it is, and we will pretend to take it seriously.” Thus, do the waters recede and Earth is saved from looming climate catastrophe.
Even if you believe the extremely dubious proposition that somehow the climate “consensus” perfectly understands perhaps the most complicated system on the planet, and can forecast with certitude and in detail what the global temperature will be a century from now, Paris is a charade. The best estimates are that, accepting the premises of the consensus, the deal will reduce warming 0.0 to 0.2 degrees Celsius.
President Barack Obama praised 180 countries for coming to Paris “with serious climate targets in hand.” This was ridiculous climate grade inflation. As Oren Cass of the Manhattan Institute points out, Pakistan produced a one-page document promising to “reduce its emissions after reaching peak levels to the extent possible.” For this we needed a headline-grabbing global confab?
No one will mistake Pakistan for an industrial juggernaut. How about China, the world’s largest carbon emitter? It promises to reach peak emissions around 2030, when one U.S. government study estimates that it would hit peak admissions anyway, Cass notes. The more China promises to confront climate change, the more it stays the same.
India’s assurance that it will make a roughly 30 percent improvement in carbon intensity is, according to Cass, also about where it was projected to be headed anyway. India still wants to double its output of coal by 2020. As The Guardian put it, India “says coal provides the cheapest energy for rapid industrialization that would lift millions out of poverty.” India would be correct.
The agreement’s celebrants believe that by making countries report their progress on cutting carbon emissions and by sending a stern signal against fossil fuels, Paris will catalyze painful cuts in carbon emissions somewhere off in the future. It speaks to a naive belief in the power of global shame over the sheer economic interest of developing countries in getting rich (and lifting countless millions out of poverty) through exploiting cheap energy — you know, the way Western countries have done for a couple of centuries.
If this is the best hope of the climate alarmists, their global campaign will be a welcome fizzle. All things considered, it probably is best that they occupy themselves with grand meetings and with the exertions attendant to believing their own PR. Otherwise they could do real damage.
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.