Greenhouse gases

Upcoming Paris U.N. Climate Change Conference Is a "Charade"

According to Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz



The scientific and policy conference on climate change, Our Common Future Under Climate Change (CFCC15), met last week in Paris. The meeting served as an exchange for scientific information and policy analyses in advance the big United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP-21) meeting in Paris this coming December. Negotiators at COP-21 are supposed to agree on a new universal climate agreement aimed at reducing future greenhouse gas emissions and financing climate adaptation measures.

Andrew Revkin from over at Dot Earth has a good summary of what happened at the Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference in Paris last week. The CFCC15 Scientific Committee issued an outcome statement, Science Offers Robust Foundationa for Ambitious Outcomes at COP21 and Beyond, that, among other things, asserted:

Because warming from carbon dioxide persists for many centuries, any upper limit on warming requires carbon dioxide emissions to fall eventually to zero. A two in three probability of holding warming to 2°C or less will require a budget that limits future carbon dioxide emissions to about 900 billion tons, roughly 20 times annual emissions in 2014. To limit warming to 2°C, emissions must be zero or even negative by the end of the 21st century.

The universal climate agreement that will supposedly be hammered out by negotiators this December will be based on pledges by 190 countries to act in various ways to begin the process of eventually reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. The pledges, known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), are voluntary with no legally binding force. President Barack Obama has promised that the United States will cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

According to Bloomberg, Nobel economics laureate Joseph Stiglitz told the delegates at the CFCC15 that the Paris conference in December is doomed to failure, dismissing …

…the voluntary commitments that countries have been announcing leading up to the Paris summit. "In the absence of more forceful actions, voluntary actions simply don't solve problems of global public goods," he says. In other words, countries won't do enough if there's no compulsion involved.

His solution? A globally harmonized carbon tax. Basically, each country would set and collect a carbon tax which would replace some of its income and corporate taxes. If a country refused to go along, then its trading partners would set a tariff on exports from that country equal to the tax. The idea is that a carbon tax would encourage innovators to develop and invest in no-carbon climate-friendly energy technologies.

The scientific outcome statement from the CFCC15 noted that when it comes to cutting emissions that "excluding particular clean-energy technologies" increases "costs and complexity." I take this to mean that activist opposition to using nuclear power is counterproductive.

It is worth noting that other policy analysts report that innovators are already well on the way toward to developing energy generation technologies that will be cheaper than fossil fuel energy.

For more background on carbon taxes, take a look at some of the analyses over at the new libertarian think tank, the Niskanen Center.