Paris Climate Change Conference

Why the Paris Climate Change Agreement Will Fail

World leaders are looking in all the wrong places for a solution

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The "historic" agreement just concluded in Paris was supposed to be the humanity's last chance to save the world from catastrophic warming. If that's the case, then the world is surely doomed. Notwithstanding the giddy talk, not a

Polar Bear
Christopher.Michel via Foter.com / CC BY

single major polluter offered anything resembling an adequate plan to slash emissions. In fact, literally every country gamed the process—demonstrating, yet again, the utter folly of trying to save the world by putting it on a collective energy diet.

But the good news is that once this "last chance" fails—and fail it will—the world will still have plenty of time to explore workable solutions.

Every major climate change initiative to date has gone up in smoke. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which sought to cut emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, was doomed from the start. India and China, even then among the world's top five polluters, refused to even participate. Meanwhile, President Bill Clinton supported the treaty, but he didn't have a prayer of getting it past the U.S. Congress, so he didn't even try. Canada ratified the deal but blew its target cuts by 25 percent and eventually quit. Japan and New Zealand similarly faced a compliance gap. Europe met its target but not because its cap-and-trade program was a roaring success, as environmentalists would have you believe. Rather, it was because the industrial emissions of former Soviet bloc countries were so awful in 1990 that minor access to better Western technology produced major gains. Also, Europe's 2007 recession helped!

The 2009 Copenhagen conference to hammer out a Kyoto sequel was an even bigger debacle. India and China participated—but only to play spoilsports. They rejected America's proposed emission cuts as small potatoes that didn't even come close to atoning for America's historic role in causing the problem in the first place. The whole thing ended on a sour note with global leaders unable to muster anything beyond a statement noting the need to keep global temperatures 2 degrees centigrade below industrial levels.

Paris was supposed to reverse this beggar-other-countries-before-committing-yourself dynamic by taking what The New Yorkers' John Cassidy has dubbed the "potluck dinner" approach. Instead of imposing legally binding emission cuts top-down, every country was asked to put its own good faith plan on the table. Even the notion of common metrics to evaluate each country's plan was abandoned, as was all talk of "punitive sanctions." Instead, the hope was that ambitious targets by a few countries would put "peer pressure" on others to match their pledges and over time generate, as President Obama put it, "a race to the top"—just like Microsoft's Bill Gates decision to give away a bulk of his wealth has now inspired Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg to give away his.

But the crucial difference, of course, is that heads of states are not committing their personal resources but their citizens'. They score political points at home not by giving away the store but by protecting it. Even the most committed leaders in Paris were not immune from such pressures.

Consider President Obama, who is nothing if not a crusader on the issue. He issued a lofty philippic claiming, "climate change could define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other." But this champion's Paris offer to reduce America's emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels in 10 years is lower than the Copenhagen target of 30 percent. And he'll have difficulty pushing even this through a Republican Congress which is also, incidentally, fighting tooth-and-nail Obama's $3 billion pledge to the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund to help defray poor countries' mitigation costs. Indeed, developing countries' insistence (led by India) that the $1trillion Western aid over the next 10 years be made "legally binding" almost derailed the talks with Secretary of State John Kerry threatening to walk out.

There was much high-fiving among global warming activists when, ahead of the Paris talks, China pledged to implement a cap-and-trade program in 2017 to limit emissions. But what was papered over in order to get the final agreement was the fine print noting that China won't reach peak carbon-dioxide emissions till 2030. Until then, it is proposing only to reduce emission intensity—or emissions as a percentage of its GDP—by 60 to 65 percent. This is a less ambitious target than even business-as-usual scenarios, suggesting that China is building a lot of cushion for itself to meet its phony cuts.

India, which vociferously condemned Western pressure at Paris as "carbon imperialism," has refused to even set a peak emissions target. It is willing to commit only to cutting emissions intensity by 33 to 35 percent, arguably a slower rate of improvement than it's seen over the last 15 years. Meanwhile Russian President Vladimir Putin, who remains firmly in the global warming denialist camp, has offered an emission reduction plan that is actually an emission increase plan.

Observing all of this, a frustrated Bill Gates lamented, "It's nice for people to talk about two degrees, but we don't even have the commitments that are going to keep us below four degrees of warming."

But if Paris' "voluntary" model of climate change negotiations is going to work no better (and possibly worse) than the earlier coercive one, do we all have to resign ourselves to being fried to golden tamales?

Not really.

The Paris talks were suffused with a false sense of urgency. The vast majority of scientists agree that the earth is warming but the severity and pace is hotly disputed given that world temperature has increased only half as much as climate models predicted in 1990. In fact, the two-degree centigrade tipping point being peddled is based less on science and more on the political need to spur action.

This target has led the world to radical solutions that intensify the fight for the scarce carbon spoils. But if we have more time to deal with a less severe problem then maybe we can relax a little and implement cost-effective solutions that don't require putting each country on some kind of a carbon budget. We can explore other mitigation strategies such as forest sinks to sequester excess carbon dioxide. Or adaptation strategies to deal with the effects of climate change, such as helping low-lying countries erect canals and barriers against rising water levels. Or search for technological fixes such as geo-engineering to reflect sunlight away from the earth's atmosphere. Or await the new generation of nuclear power plants with less prohibitive upfront capital costs to come on line, making the whole approach of emission cuts moot by providing an unlimited supply of clean-burning, safe, and low-cost energy.

The sense of panic driving the global warming conversation has actually made realistic solutions more difficult to achieve. But perhaps when the Paris agreement fails to deliver, the world can finally approach the problem with a cooler head. It might be another decade — but fortunately, there is time for the world to try everything else before doing the right thing.

A version of this column originally appeared in The Week.

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  1. For how many years have we been hearing that the world is going to end unless something is done *now*? I mean, good ol’ Mother Earth’s gotta be living on extremely borrowed time at this point.

    1. Yes, I’ve noticed how every few years they’ll say “this is our last chance” (until the propaganda fails, and another “last chance” comes along in a few years, repeat as needed). I’ve also noticed that they would do the same thing with (“we weren’t sure previously, but now we are” — though they never act unsure, of course). I judge such views on the arguments used to sustain them. Denying access to scientific evidence, trying to close down debate (even threatening skeptics with jail), and repeatedly lying about what they’ve said in the past are hardly the behavior of those who have a good argument on their side. “When you’re weak on the law, argue the facts. When you’re weak on the facts, argue the law. When you’re weak on both, BS the jury.”

      1. It looks like a scam because it is one. Simple as that.

      2. Never let a crisis go to waste. Imagined or real.

      3. Oh but just you wait. Now anyone who doesn’t believe will be publicly shamed. By billionaires!!

      4. A doctor gave a man six months to live. The man couldn’t pay his bill, so he gave him another six months.

        – Henny Youngman

  2. “Why the Paris Climate Change Agreement Will Fail”

    Because it is designed to?

    “World leaders are looking in all the wrong places for a solution”

    Because they aren’t looking for a solution. When solutions to the weather involve paying 12 figure sums from rich countries to poor ones that should be a clue that this isnt about the weather.

    Just call it what it is: international socialism.

    1. Yeah, I can just see this in the future.

      Well we could have come up with new technologies if we’d have just had the funding, to bad we gave all that money to the third world instead of investing it in research….

      We’re actually quite lucky that the problem of Global Warming is actually very much overstated.

  3. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which sought to cut emissions 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, was doomed from the start

    Didn’t the US meet what would have been its targets thanks to natural gas and fracking? Or are we not supposed to talk about that…?

    1. Fracking hurts Mother Gaia!

  4. Delegates in Paris were really dressed for the occasion.

  5. Fortunately, despite the failures to meet the modest goals set by previous agreements, global warming has pretty much paused since the 1990s. This is so harmful to the alarmist models (which are disproven because they failed to predict anything remote like this) that the NOAA had to resort of fudging their data (not the first time, undoubtedly not the last) to cover it up. (This is also why “global warming ‘ was changed to the vague, impossible to disprove “climate change”, which in practice has as much scientific merit as “scientific” creationism, and for much the same reason.) When skeptical Republican Congressmen challenged them and demanded that they produce their data (as proper scientific procedure would already require, so that it can be examined by others), they refused to do so. This reduced climate alarmism to the scientific equivalent of cold fusion or N-rays.

    1. Bring back global cooling.

      Or, at least the nuclear winter.

      Hey, give me a hit of that shit!

    2. Exactly TimothyLane. They’re developing a new adjustable thermometer for the masses so everyone will soon be able to prove to THEMSELVES that temperatures are warming!

  6. Anyone who thinks that AGW will be remediated (if remediation is even necessary) via brute-force carbon caps is either a starry-eyed, quixotic optimist or a liar who stands to benefit in some personal fashion.

    That crowd is also completely ignoring the horrible toll that carbon caps will take on the world’s poorest. Reduced living standards due to scarcer and more expensive energy will mean millions will die premature and/or avoidable deaths and billions will remain in poverty they’d otherwise rise out of.

    Some of that crowd doesn’t think this is a bad thing. They’re the “theres too many people in the world anyway” types, who, oddly enough, never offer to sacrifice themselves for Gaia.

    1. See. We didn’t have to wait for mother nature to solve all of the man created, pollution problems via population reduction. We’ll just do it to ourselves.

      1. One way or another we’ll get cut back to a sustainable number. And everything will be fine. For awhile.

        1. Garth Bigelow|12.14.15 @ 8:57PM|#
          “One way or another we’ll get cut back to a sustainable number.”

          You mean one of the lower numbers where more people were poor and starving? That sort of ‘sustainable’?

          1. I meant population numbers. Either the planet will shrug most of us off or we’ll bring about a huge population decline, one way or another. The planet doesn’t care, it just keeps rolling along.

  7. Cue Jackass, 97%, denier, hockey stick, etc.

  8. Nonexistent problems do not require a “solution.”

    1. …but then, what would we do with all our fear-based answers?

  9. Pessimistic about the deal, eh Shikha? Fortunately, you have a candidate in this election then:

    “While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that.”

    -Bernie Sanders.

    1. “While this is a step forward it goes nowhere near far enough. The planet is in crisis. We need bold action in the very near future and this does not provide that.”
      -Bernie Sanders

      1980?
      Hey, Jack, when is the Rapture?

      1. That was about a decade ago but almost no one qualified so nobody noticed.

    2. I really really hope she bites on this hint and writes “The Libertarian case for Bernie Sanders”, that one will be a real hoot!

  10. Well, if the agreement fails, the leaders will have to go back to Paris for more parties. Maybe make it a month long event.

  11. “World leaders are looking in all the wrong places for a solution problem.”

    Fixed for you, no charge.

  12. Central planning always works if it pays the bills and keeps your lights on.

    1. Central planning always works for the planners.

      Its just that the count thing out like: “one for me, one for you, two for me, one for you, three for me, none for you…”

  13. 100% of your skepticism regarding climate change comes from it being an existential threat to free-market capitalism. Consensus, what consensus? You will sacrifice the entire goddamned planet for your dumb ideas.

    1. 100% of your skepticism credulity regarding climate change comes from it being an existential threat to free-market capitalism enabler of global socialism and central planning by top men.

      FTFY

    2. fuckyougotmine|12.14.15 @ 7:34PM|#
      “You will sacrifice the entire goddamned planet for your dumb ideas.”

      Slavers would enslave humanity to supposedly save it.
      Fuck off, slaver.

      1. But thank God that all our betters (Top Men) can still have their opulent luxuries, and without feeling bad at all because at least they thing right….

        1. think, not thing .. arrrrgh

    3. 100% of your skepticism regarding climate change comes from it being an existential threat to free-market capitalism.

      The scheme is a vehicle against free-market capitalism touted as an excuse for such; but technically, even if the cult was real, the easiest solution would be to pull 5th Fleet out of Qatar, let the camel jocks arm up with nukes, watch oil prices rise as a result, and voila all the windmills and solar panels are economically competitive. But since that involves the government doing less, not more, that is not acceptable solution to the statist morons – who must fuck everything up trying to save it.

      #fuckyougimmeyours

    4. They turn out to be no better than the ideologues they rail about every day. They love science, until science drops a problem on their lap the free market has no interest in solving. And then, “the science is corrupt because it has been hijacked by a worldwide government conspiracy.”

      1. Jackand Ace|12.14.15 @ 8:43PM|#
        “They turn out to be no better than the ideologues they rail about every day.”

        You mean the gaia-worshipping idjits like you?
        When is the Rapture? Tell us again about the earthquakes fracking causes (that no one can feel) – that’s a good story! How about UUUUUUUUUGE storms that fall apart and harm no one?
        Or, Jack, how about ONE specific prediction which had been shown?

    5. What system made it technologically possible for you to post your fucking marxist garbage? Eat shit and die you simple primitive motherfucker.

  14. Shia vs Sunni. Where have we already heard that.

    I like it! End it once and for all. Now!

  15. Any geologist will happily inform you that there’s more greenhouse gasses produced by normal wave action crashing on all the beaches around the globe IN ONE SINGLE DAY than the total amount of such gasses produced by humans since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. But, how can the politicians tax the ocean? They can’t, and so we have Al Gore and all the other fear mongers scaring you into their collective corral. And 40 years ago in 1975 esteemed professor Paul Ehrlich, in “The Population Bomb”, warned us ALL that by the year 2000 the world absolutely would not be able to feed itself and there would be famine, starvation, and blood in the streets of America if we didn’t stop and follow HIS advice. And he produced the statistics and the science to prove it. He’s still spouting the same tired old dogma today in yet another book. It’s just that he’s conveniently updating his forecast timeline, don’t you know. Does anyone EVER consider the obvious reality that NEVER ONCE has ANY Doomsdayer, whether a trained professional or your everyday street-corner sandwich-board prophet… present day or ancient… tenured or not… NOT ONE has ever been right? Despite their lofty sounding titles, these crazy Koots are ALWAYS PROVEN WRONG. Period, end of story.

    1. Post that geologist.

      1. Excuse me,
        when the raw data from NASA is provided, and East Anglia, and, and, and,
        And when the complete methodology of the work is shared so that others can replicate and validate the results.
        (you may remember this from school, assuming you went, as scientific method)
        THEN we can discuss how others need to ‘post that geologist”

        Until then, Man Made Global Climate Change is religion. nothing more, nothing less,

        1. Your excused. All the data from NASA is published and available.

          http://climate.nasa.gov/news/2293/

          There is a link at the bottom of the page that you can click and download the data, and then prove them wrong.

          1. So how long did it take for you to download, read and test the 11-terabyte dataset?, you lying piece of shit. It’s just a worthless set of predictions that conveniently can’t be studied for their accuracy until 2100.

            1. Good to see libertarians recognize the data isn’t hidden.

            2. You should know that when you curse, it only encourages me.

              1. Jackand Ace|12.14.15 @ 10:28PM|#
                “You should know that when you curse, it only encourages me.”

                Fuck you.
                Now let’s see the prediction which was shown true.

            3. Thank you. I didn’t read them, since I’m not familiar with the data which certainly has been with held.
              Jack hardly ever reads his links and often enough, they would embarrass someone honest and intelligent enough to be embarrassed.
              And, yes, it’s a good bet that if Jack posts it, it is a lie.

        2. Maybe you have the link to that geologist.

          1. Maybe you have a link to ONE specific prediction which has been shown.
            I doubt it.

          2. Just ONE, Jack. That’s all. ONE. Not a bunch by various ‘enviro scientists’, just ONE by any single ONE of them.
            Is that so hard, Jack?

            1. That’s right dickhead, just one ping only. Come on, give us the justice we deserve.

    2. My geologist friend asked to know what I was smoking when I asked him about the waves.

  16. We need someone to create a change.org petition for the President to live as an example of the great Paris agreement and pledge to use 28% less carbon than the median American family.

    Come on, Obama, lead by example! #ParisChange

    1. Love it.

  17. so, Shikha, you should know that when you write an article a week ago, before the conference was completed, and then just change the opening sentence to make it look like it was written after the conference was completed, that you might have gotten a few things wrong in your prediction.

    Forrest sinks? Well, in fact, the agreement did recognize the importance of such.

    ” At last, forests! ? The final draft of the binding Paris Agreement on climate change directly and boldly addresses the necessary role of the world’s forests, working in concert with carbon emission cuts, to slow the march of rising global temperatures.”

    “The importance of forests is emphasized again and again throughout the 31-page agreement which mandates that all countries “conserve and enhance? sinks and reservoirs” ? code words for forests and other ecosystems, including oceans and wetlands, that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it.”

    http://pulitzercenter.org

    1. “Forrest sinks? Well, in fact, the agreement did recognize the importance of such.

      ” At last, forests! ? The final draft of the binding Paris Agreement on climate change directly and boldly addresses the necessary role of the world’s forests, working in concert with carbon emission cuts, to slow the march of rising global temperatures.”
      “The importance of forests is emphasized again and again throughout the 31-page agreement which mandates that all countries “conserve and enhance? sinks and reservoirs” ? code words for forests and other ecosystems, including oceans and wetlands, that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it.”

      Uh, yes, she suggested that and made no predictions that I can see. Grab them straw, Jack! It’s all you got.
      Now, once more: ONE specific prediction shown to be true from these ‘scientists’, please.

  18. When the fuck did Climate Change, you know, the problem that has as its only solution full global submission to Progressive ideologies, become an article of faith among libertarians?

    I guess liberty is fine unless we need to “Save the Planet”(tm) . Then I guess its just what the hell go ahead and take our money, freedom, and rights.

    WTF Reason?

  19. 99.96% of the atmosphere is not CO2, currently it represents 40 thousandths of one percent. Please forgive me for not going into a panic if it becomes 50 thousandths, or even 60 thousandths of one percent. I have more important things to worry about, like what’s for dinner tonight. This whole climate catastrophe is an amazing delusion. It could be essentially cured via a large scale adoption of nuclear power. Let me know if this charade actually could precipitate that result, and I’ll applaud.

    1. So if I put poison in your drinking water, it’s no problem if it is less than half a percent. OK, sure.

      1. aajax|12.16.15 @ 5:52PM|#
        “So if I put poison in your drinking water, it’s no problem if it is less than half a percent. OK, sure.”

        There’s a very good chance that’s true in that the dose makes the poison, but you seem to believe otherwise. Are you a catastrophist by any chance? And a lefty besides?

  20. This statement came from Shikka? On Reason.com? Is there a good cop/bad cop thing going on here between Chapman and Shikka? This statement is actually pretty good:

    The Paris talks were suffused with a false sense of urgency. The vast majority of scientists agree that the earth is warming but the severity and pace is hotly disputed given that world temperature has increased only half as much as climate models predicted in 1990. In fact, the two-degree centigrade tipping point being peddled is based less on science and more on the political need to spur action.

  21. It’s almost as if the whole thing is ridiculous theatre to sell the public on the decimation of their ability to live their lives!

  22. What makes Shikha Dalmia someone we should listen to on climate change?

  23. The mythology that mankind’s utility of fire (combustion) is a moral transgression against the gods is a universal theme in the history of religious belief. We know of the story of Prometheus and even the Maya had a story where the humans were “smoking the sky” against the Divine will. Also, the belief that mankind’s sin will cause a great cataclysmic flood, sea level rise, and wrathful weather unless some form of salvation is attained, such building an ark (Hebrew, Babylonian mythology) or buying a Prius are also universal religious themes latent in the collective human psyche and exist in nearly every RELIGION in human history. All religious fundamentalists will appeal to whatever scriptural authority they respect to justify their belief and claim it to be Truth or “fact”, often misconstruing and selectively interpreting it to suit their belief. Science is not immune to this. Hitler used Eugenics as scientific justification…he had a Jewish problem, environmentalists have a human problem…don’t say I didn’t tell you so when Al Gore’s followers mandates sterilization and capital punishment for deniers (heretics) of the faith. Know religious fanaticism from science, and keep it out of policy!

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