How U.N. Climate Change Negotiations Threaten Economic Growth

Misguided responses to man-made climate change pose a severe threat to future human prosperity.

Over the weekend, the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP-18) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) sputtered to its conclusion in Doha, Qatar. The delegates did agree to meet again next year to discuss the adoption of some kind of legally binding agreement to ration carbon by 2015. Otherwise, on the face of it, nothing much concrete was accomplished in Doha, but the process itself poses the danger that policymakers will, step-by-inadvertent-step, adopt policies deleterious to the future prosperity of humanity.

The first big item on the Doha agenda was keeping the Kyoto Protocol on some sort of life support. Adopted in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol required 35 rich countries to cut their greenhouse gas emissions by about 5.2 percent below what they emitted in back in 1990. The original Kyoto Protocol would have obliged the U.S. to cut its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 7 percent below its 1990 levels. However, the U.S. never ratified the treaty and now Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Russia have pulled out.

At Doha, in what amounts to a mostly symbolic gesture, only the European Union, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland, and Norway agreed to remain in the treaty that, in any case, covers only 15 percent of the world’s GHG emissions. And instead of binding commitments, each country gets to pick its own emissions targets for 2020. The countries that remain in the rump Kyoto Protocol promised to let the U.N. know what their new emissions reduction commitments (if any) will be next year. As noted, a largely symbolic act.

At the Doha climate change conference, the U.S. reiterated the pledge that President Barack Obama made at the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009 to cut U.S. greenhouse emissions by 2020 to 17 percent below their 2005 levels. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, net U.S. GHG emissions amounted to 6,118 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent that year. This means that the Obama administration’s goal is to reduce GHG emissions from the U.S. to below 5,077 gigatons in 2020.

Earlier this year, the Energy Information Administration reported that energy-related emissions of carbon dioxide had fallen to 1,340 gigatons in the first quarter, back to its level in 1992. The drop was the result of switching from coal to less carbon intensive natural gas to produce electricity, as well as a 15 percent drop in highway miles travelled by Americans as a result of the Great Recession. 

To get some idea of what this means for the trend in overall GHG emissions, the first quarter emission implies a total of 5,360 gigatons of energy related emissions of carbon dioxide for 2012. The Environmental Protection Agency pegs those carbon dioxide emissions at 5,933 in 2005 along with an additional 174 gigatons of carbon dioxide from other sources for a total of 6,107 gigatons. EPA data shows that the emissions of the other greenhouse gases and the sinks (mostly forests) that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere essentially balance out at 1,095 and 1,085 gigatons, respectively, in 2005. So adding an additional 10 gigatons yields the EPA’s net emissions total of 6,118 for 2005.

Adding 184 gigatons to 5,360 gigatons yields net carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of 5,544 gigatons in 2012. These calculations would suggest that 2012 emissions are already more than 9 percent below their 2005 levels. Conversely, since net GHG emissions were 5,293 gigatons in 1990, this also implies that current emissions are a bit over 4 percent higher than they were then.

At the Doha climate change conference the delegates from 194 countries spent most of their time squabbling over how much money the rich countries purportedly owe to the poor countries in what amounts to climate change reparations. First, the conference endorsed activities that would lead to the creation of a Green Climate Fund. Second, the Doha delegates launched another negotiating process to create an “international mechanism” that aims to address “loss and damage associated with climate change impacts in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.” Let’s provisionally call that “international mechanism” the Climate Reparations Fund.

Back in 2009 at the collapsing Copenhagen climate change conference, the United States, the European Union, and other rich countries agreed to put $100 billion per year into a Green Climate Fund to help poor countries adapt to climate change by 2020. In Doha, the rich countries agreed again to do that. In addition, the conference decided that the Green Climate Fund will be headquartered in the South Korean city of Sondgo. Poor countries, however, do not want to wait another seven years for climate change compensation, so they also were angling for commitments of $60 billion in climate change aid between now and 2015. At the Doha conference, Britain, Germany, and some other countries vaguely pledged to throw in $6 billion or so.

In addition to the Green Climate Fund, the poor countries want even more money from the rich countries to compensate them for the “loss and damage” caused by climate change. The idea is that the rich countries have loaded up the atmosphere with GHGs that are dangerously warming the atmosphere and provoking all sorts of weather disasters, floods, droughts, hurricanes, storm surges, and so forth. Since the rich countries grew wealthy by destroying the world’s weather, they should pay off the poor whom they have harmed. How much? Another $100 billion annually on top of the $100 billion slated for the Green Climate Fund. For comparison, in 2010 development aid from rich countries to poor countries totaled $128 billion.

How to tell if a particular storm or a drought is the result of man-made global warming or would have happened anyway? After all, deadly storms killed hundreds of thousands, floods drowned millions, and tens of millions died in famines caused by drought well before humanity began to boost significantly the level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. However, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies researcher James Hansen and his colleagues argued earlier this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that increasing GHG levels have loaded the “climate dice” so that the chances of weather extremes are now much higher now than they were back in the halcyon era between 1951 and 1980. Maybe so.

But if a particular heat wave is, say, a degree warmer than a particular region’s average heat wave (whatever that may signify), does that mean that the “loss and damage” attributed to global warming is confined to just that additional one degree above average temperature? And what about the converse case; how might the benefits of extra warming be accounted for? Recent winters in the U.S. have been warmer on average, slashing the home heating bills faced by consumers. Would consumers be obligated to pay the oil, natural gas, and coal companies for beneficent weather and compensate them as well for the loss of business?

One suggestion for avoiding messy case-by-case adjudication of blame for climate disasters would be to empower U.N bureaucrats to allocate billions in reparations based on climate model projections of what the extra climate-related costs each country would suffer. Deciding which model to use in calculating losses and damages will, to say the least, be problematic.

At the end, ideological environmentalists ritually denounced the Doha conference for its “lack of ambition,” meaning that the world’s governments failed to enact the onerous energy rationing they prefer. For example, Friends of the Earth International spokesperson Asad Rehman said, “The Doha deal is as empty as a desert mirage. Despite the official spin, these talks delivered nothing — no real progress on cutting greenhouse gases and only an insulting gesture at climate finance.”

Mirages infamously can mislead people into danger. U.N. climate negotiations are no different. They slowly entangle countries and lead them toward policies that they would not adopt on their own. Consider the case of the $100 billion Green Climate Fund. President Obama proposed it in the hastily cobbled together Copenhagen Accord as a way to avert the public relations embarrassment of a total collapse of the Copenhagen climate change conference in 2009. At the 2010 Cancun climate change conference, the process for setting up the Green Climate Fund was formally adopted, and at the 2011 Durban conference its charter and board of directors were launched. At Doha, it was agreed that it would begin disbursing funds in 2014.

Now the Doha conference has upped the climate change compensation ante by another $100 billion to a total of as much as $200 billion per year after 2020. Development economist William Easterly has argued, “Spending $2.3 trillion (measured in today's dollars) in aid over the past five decades has left the most aid-intensive regions, like Africa, wallowing in continued stagnation; it's fair to say this approach has not been a great success.” Given this history of failure it is extremely doubtful that handing out billions in climate change reparations to the kleptocratic governments that hold sway in far too many poor countries would be an effective way to address the problems of climate change.

Creeping U.N. incrementalism can be resisted. When push came to shove, the U.S. did not go along with the carbon rationing schemes dictated by the Kyoto Protocol. But perhaps that outcome would have been different had there been President Al Gore. As long as the U.N. climate change negotiation process continues, the risk remains that it will result in agreements that harm global economic growth while not doing all that much to address the problem of man-made climate change. Next year COP-19 convenes in Warsaw.

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  • OldMexican||

    Ronald Bailey on How U.N. Climate Change Negotiations Threaten Economic Growth


    Denier!

  • Sevo||

    "How to tell if a particular storm or a drought is the result of man-made global warming or would have happened anyway?"

    Simple. If pitching it as a result of climate change will help centralize the economy, it's obviously "linked" to climate change.

  • tarran||

    The general economic collapse that most countries are heading towards under the modern Keynesian-policy-supported Bismarkian-welfare-state paradigm is going to completely nullify any of these transfers just as the collapse of the Soviet Union ended the flow of money propping up North Korea and Cuba.

    In the end, I suspect all the plans bandied about in these conferences will never be meaningfully enacted.

  • OldMexican||

    How to tell if a particular storm or a drought is the result of man-made global warming or would have happened anyway?


    That's why they call it Climate change, because it changed from Serial Killer Nature to Humans Made Me Do It.

  • Russell||

    Pointing to policy overkill will not reduce the risk that attends ignoring or deliberately understating the problem, witness the corner into which CFACT's Doha comedy troupe has backed itself:

    http://vvattsupwiththat.blogsp.....g-tax.html

  • Ron Bailey||

    R: Nor will continuing down the merry UN negotiations path do much - as should be evident after 20 years - to address the global warming problem, however dire it may be.

  • Russell||

    Ron, with the UN climate Commedia Del'Arte brain dead, their opposite numbers tend to brag about how much smarter they are instead of paying the slightest attention to the science , QV:

    http://vvattsupwiththat.blogsp.....ience.html

  • OldMexican||

    Poor countries, however, do not want to wait another seven years for climate change compensation


    Especially since Bernanke is happening and the poor countries don't want to be laughed at if they keep asking for the same $100 billion dollars 7 years from now.

  • sonofloud||

    What use is an economy when there is no clear air to breath, clean water to drink, or non modified food to eat?

  • OldMexican||

    Re: sonofloud,

    What use is an economy when there is no clear air to breath, clean water to drink, or non modified food to eat production?


    There. More accurate.

  • sonofloud||

    production of what?
    not accurate, extremely vague

  • Sevo||

    sonofloud| 12.11.12 @ 6:33PM |#
    "production of what?"

    Everything.

  • iggy||

    Yeah, American air quality sure is terrible, sonofloud. I can barely walk outside in Chicago without immediately contracting cancer.

  • ||

    production of what?

    Idiot!

  • tarran||

    Oddly enough an economy is the only way to produce those things. You think 6 billion people living like hunter-gathering savages wandering in bands little tribal bands won't create an ecological disaster followed by mass starvation?

  • ||

    create an ecological disaster followed by mass starvation

    My opinion is that the mass starvation and ecological disaster would happen at the same time....not to mention the megadeath murder that would be going on as 6 billion engage in war of all against all for dwindling resources.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    What the hell is "non modified food"?

    All food, pretty much by definition, is modified from something.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Not to mention the fact that in much of the world air and water quality have never been better and the only thing that has made it that way has been economic growth.

  • ||

    ^This.

    The only path to a better environment is economic growth.

  • Sevo||

    sonofloud| 12.11.12 @ 4:55PM |#
    "What use is an economy when there is no clear air to breath, clean water to drink, or non modified food to eat?"

    "A false dichotomy is typically used in an argument to force your opponent into an extreme position -- by making the assumption that there are only two positions."
    http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?FalseDichotomy
    You should read the link, sonofloud.

  • ||

    You should also note how baddy sonofloud uses false dichotomy as a tool in his arguments.

    I am pretty sure I am one of his opponents yet I am not being forced into an extreme position.

    In fact my position is the same as the the result of the last UNFCCC meeting...which is to do nothing.

  • ||

    And what about the converse case; how might the benefits of extra warming be accounted for?

    We're on pace for a 7 degree F rise. Why don't you tell us about the positive impacts the scientists are forecasting for 7F? *chuckle*

    Recent winters in the U.S. have been warmer on average, slashing the home heating bills faced by consumers.

    Sandy and the Midwest drought have cost about $100,000,000,000 apiece, so far, and both have been made worse by global warming. That's just 1 country, in 1 year, at 1 degree F. How's that going to run in 2080 at 5 degrees F worldwide?

    Given this history of failure it is extremely doubtful that handing out billions in climate change reparations to the kleptocratic governments that hold sway in far too many poor countries would be an effective way to address the problems of climate change.

    You know the effective way to address global warming: drastic, permanent reductions in carbon emissions. You won't endorse it. Your pleas for "effectiveness" are concern trolling.

  • tarran||

    We're on pace for a 7 degree F rise. Why don't you tell us about the positive impacts the scientists are forecasting for 7F? *chuckle*

    HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

  • ||

    Watts gets hammered every other week by the people who actually do the science. Is Genesis your biology reference book? LOL

  • ||

    Watts gets hammered every other week

    Maybe...but you are getting hammered right now by simple Google searches.

    7 degrees? really?

    And what fairy scientist riding a unicorn told you that was even possible?

  • Sevo||

    Jersey Patriot| 12.11.12 @ 6:13PM |#
    "LOL"

    'Nuff said.

  • Sevo||

    "We're on pace for a 7 degree F rise."
    No, actually a several thousand degree rise, if you ignore a time span, idiot.

    "Why don't you tell us about the positive impacts the scientists are forecasting for 7F? *chuckle*"
    Why do you ignore the point? *chuckle*

  • ||

    "Why don't you tell us about the positive impacts the scientists are forecasting for 7F? *chuckle*"

    Hell why doesn't he actually name one scientist who is making that kind of temperature increase.

    The IPCC's prediction is far below that.

  • Bill||

    No. 7F is about 2-3 C, so they are predicting that.

  • Gray Ghost||

    It's about 4 degrees C (3.88888...C), but whatev. Here's the list of IPCC predictions for the temperature in 2099, relative to 2000. You show me where +4 degrees C is, other than at the very worst case scenario. This is providing that the IPCC is even right and that their error bars are based on anything other than vapor. The last 10 years haven't shown much support for their projections.

    It's silly. You lot take a reasonable proposition---man is dumping a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere and temperature is rising as a result---and run with it like some demented Chicken Little.

    Funny how no matter the crisis: global cooling, Malthusian overproduction, ocean acidification, peak oil---the solution is always greater state control over the individual and an ever-increasing series of taxes and tithes from said individual, to the elite. When the IPCC, and the rest of the U.N. enviro-bureaucracy, starts videoconferencing instead of junketing all over the world, then I might start believing that they are believing their own bullshit.

  • Sevo||

    "When the IPCC, and the rest of the U.N. enviro-bureaucracy, starts videoconferencing instead of junketing all over the world, then I might start believing that they are believing their own bullshit."

    When Hollywood libs start selling their Malibu digs for cheap before they're flooded, I'll go for it.

  • Sevo||

    'You know the effective way to address global warming: pixie dust and communism'

    FIFY, idiot.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    You're a bit slow, aren't you? Never quite 'got' ideas that people were trying to explain to you? I have relatives from New Jersey, so I understand what you are going through.

  • ||

    I understand that anthropogenic global warming is confirmed by decades of land and satellite data, accepted as true and extremely dangerous by ~97% of the people who actually study the climate, and considered a catastrophic threat by every major scientific body on Earth, every major insurer, and the United States Armed Forces.

    But hey, you, a couple of petroleum geologists, some fossil fuel money, and a paid hack like Bailey are bravely sorting out the truth, even though none of you are doing the work. Right. LOL

  • Sevo||

    Jersey Patriot| 12.11.12 @ 6:17PM |#
    "But hey, Kockopolus something something...'

    FIFY, idiot.

  • ||

    So, JP, how many years has it been Since there has been a statistically significant increase in the Earth's temperature?

    16

    Oh, er , um, hmm, ya just a pause...

    Dupe.

  • Sevo||

    Boy, you're just full of 'em today:

    "Sandy and the Midwest drought have cost about $100,000,000,000 apiece, so far, and both have been made worse by global warming."

    I suppose Gaia told you that while you were in a trance?

  • Ron Bailey||

    JP: So how much of the Midwest drought and Sandy should be allocated to man-made global warming? Or are you saying that there were no droughts or hurricanes before the 21st century?

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    It's interesting that some commenters keep showing up to make claims about more and stronger hurricanes because of Climate Change/Global Warming when the people who actually study them have gone to great lengths to show that there is no evidence for either more or stronger.

  • ||

    Sandy was essentially impossible without global warming. The combination of blocking high over Greenland mixed with warmer Atlantic waters gave Sandy the direction and power to make it devastating. Essentially 100%.

    I dunno about the Midwest drought. What's the likelihood of a drought this strong occurring naturally? And how often are we seeing unlikely weather patterns in the Midwest? Assess accordingly. If you miss by a few percent, you're still getting the gist of it.

    But hey, warming will bring both benefits and costs, right? That's what you're saying? So lay out the costs and benefits forecasted for 7F. Scientists have certainly done the work, and you are a reporter, and super-definitely not a PR flack.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    So, you're saying that no major hurricane ever hit New York City or Long Island or New Jersey before?

  • ||

    No, I'm saying that this particular hurricane would not have hit.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Ookay then.

    Forgive me if I don't take your word for it.

  • ||

    Don't take my word for it. Google "Greenland blocking high Sandy".

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    I'm still taking somebody's word for it.

    It seems it is entirely possible for the Greenland high to have formed without GW (it has happened before) but everyone's just sure this one was because of it.

    Not seeing any actual evidence being presented though, just assertions and the hope that the argument from authority will work.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    My point is not to argue with you though.

    The point I want to make is that even if the problems of GW are solved, something still has to be done to protect NTC and the rest of the coastal Northeast from tropical cyclones because they do hit with some regularity though not not necessarily frequency.

    Ending subsidies to coastal development might be a good start.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    "NTC" should be "NYC"

  • Sevo||

    Jersey Patriot| 12.11.12 @ 6:29PM |#
    'Don't take my word for it. Google "Greenland blocking high Sandy"."

    No, diptshit, suggesting a web search is not the same as presenting evidence.
    But then, that's probably a surprise to an ignoramus as abysmally stupid as you.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

  • ||

    Should be pointed out that real hurricanes have hit New York like this one:

    September 21, 1938 — The New England Hurricane of 1938 (Also Called "The Long Island Express") makes landfall on Suffolk County (Long Island) as a category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale.[21] Wind gusts of 125 mph (200 km/h) and storm surge of 18 feet (5 m) washes across part of the island.[22] In New York 60 deaths and hundreds of injuries were attributed to the storm.[23] In addition, 2,600 boats and 8,900 houses are destroyed.[24] Throughout New England the hurricane killed over 682 people,[25] damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $4.7 billion (2005 US dollars).[26].

    Sandy was only maybe a cat 1 hurricane for about 30 sec after it hit the coast...then quickly slowed down to a tropical cyclone.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    The Jersey Patient must be mimicking some shit it read from Greenpeace or something. The same goddamn front pattern comes through every week, and just happened to cause the barely-hurricane tropical storm to linger over the cost slightly longer instead of making inland progress. The hilarious part to me was how the front itself brought snow right as the tropical storm died down.

  • Sevo||

    "Sandy was only maybe a cat 1 hurricane for about 30 sec after it hit the coast...then quickly slowed down to a tropical cyclone."

    Yeah, but it RAINED!

  • Nuked||

    My grandmothers house on Long Island was destroyed by hurricane Gloria in 1985. Just a fun fact.

  • ||

    The combination of blocking high over Greenland mixed with warmer Atlantic waters gave Sandy the direction and power to make it devastating.

    pretty sure the north Atlantic oscillation has been oscillating for thousands of years.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N.....scillation

    And its current oscillation is not particularly different.

    http://www.climatedata.info/re.....lation.gif

    You really are horrible at this JP.

  • Sevo||

    Jersey Patriot| 12.11.12 @ 6:11PM |#
    "Sandy was essentially impossible without global warming."

    No kidding? Tell us how you decided this.
    No, wait. Don't bother.

  • ||

    We're on pace for a 7 degree F rise.

    How are we "on pace" when the earth has not gotten warmer in 16 years?

  • ||

  • ||

    That is odd...because the MET office is the same people who produced the data for this graph:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sci.....z29E78OR9H

    Which not only show no warming but shows that 1997 2001 and 2006 being hotter then 2010.

    Nice try patriot but your cherry picking does not help your case.

  • mtrueman||

    That graph comes from a newspaper called the Daily Mail. Nowhere does it mention the Met. Don't be a stooge to the media elite. If you want Met figures, go to the Met.

  • ||

    These calculations would suggest that 2012 emissions are already more than 9 percent below their 2005 levels.

    Obama does nothing about CO2 and the market solves the problem for him.

    I am wondering how long he will wait before taking credit.

  • IceTrey||

    The solution they are looking for was invented 50 years ago, the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

    energyfromthorium.com

  • Sevo||

    Jersey Patriot| 12.11.12 @ 6:11PM |#
    "I dunno about the Midwest drought. What's the likelihood of a drought this strong occurring naturally?"

    Uh, occurring "naturally"? What's chances of it occurring un-naturally?

  • iggy||

    Also, the answer to his question is 'very likely.' Honestly, we've had droughts like this multiple times before.

  • uythsb||

    Merry Christmas with you all the time.

  • ||

    step-by-inadvertent-step

    If by "inadvertent" you mean "explicitly and expressly deliberate", then yes.

  • ||

    step-by-inadvertent-step

    If by "inadvertent" you mean "explicitly and expressly deliberate", then yes.

  • ||

    SQUIRRELS!!

  • mtrueman||

    These UN solutions fill me with trepidation, and already reek of failure. Eventually the link between economic growth and carbon emissions will lead I think to climate militants taking direct action to sabotage atmosphere unfriendly varieties of economic activity. As long as there are a handful of activists willing to spend 20 years in a super max prison, profit seeking businessmen and businesswomen can be frightened off without any involvement from the UN.

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