Nearly 200 countries reached consensus in Paris on what President Obama has called an “historic agreement” to combat man-made climate change. Their host, French President Francois Hollande, extolled the work of the negotiators. He said “you will be able to say that on the twelfth of December you were in Paris for the agreement on the climate. And you will be able to be proud to stand before your children and your grandchildren."
On a superficial level, the agreement, which is to take effect in 2020, appears ambitious in terms of the goals it sets and its universal participation. In reality, however, what emerged from Paris was the folly of a massive give-away to bribe the so-called developing nations to participate.
The climate change agreement sets the goal of limiting temperature increases from pre-Industrial Revolution levels to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), with the intent to “pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels.” One hundred eight-six countries –developed and developing countries alike, accounting for over 95 percent of global emissions – have submitted voluntary plans to mitigate their respective carbon emissions and to invest in strategies for adapting to the effects of climate change. The emissions of each country would be subject to a single set of reporting and verification measures to track progress towards meeting the national targets. Countries are encouraged to periodically upgrade their emission reduction targets.
The agreement also contains clauses intended to send pricing signals to the market, incentivizing the move away from a high-carbon economy based on fossil fuels to a low-carbon economy based on clean sources of energy. To this end, it calls for the creation of a voluntary mechanism “for use of internationally transferred mitigation outcomes to achieve nationally determined contributions under this Agreement.” This appears to be a round-about diplomatic way of describing the foundation for some sort of carbon cap and trade marketplace.
In truth, these various provisions are little more than glaze to cover over the massive wealth redistribution scheme that lies at the heart of the agreement. The phrase “common but differentiated responsibility” has served as the guiding principle of the negotiations. It is based on the redistributionist notion of “climate justice” or “equity,” which casts the developed countries as the source of the problem of alleged man-made climate change and the developing countries as the innocent victims. According to the “common but differentiated responsibility” principle, all nations in theory have a “common” responsibility to protect the environment in order to save the planet. However, it is the developed countries that must bear the real “differentiated responsibility” to substantially cut their own emissions on an accelerated timetable. And it is the developed countries who are legally bound to pay for whatever voluntary steps the developing countries decide to take to reduce their emissions over time and to adapt to alleged climate change impacts within their borders.
In a moment of rare candor following his usual exhortations about the need for urgent action to address climate change, Secretary of State John Kerry admitted the obvious. No matter what drastic steps the United States takes to reduce its own carbon emissions, the problem said to be created by man-made carbon emissions will remain:
“The fact is that even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes, if we each planted a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what – that still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world.
If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions – remember what I just said, all the industrial emissions went down to zero emissions – it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65 percent of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.”
Yet, despite this admission, the Obama administration has led the way to an agreement that drastically ties down only the developed countries’ fossil fuel use in the immediate future and picks their taxpayers’ pockets at the same time. In return, the developing countries offer meaningless voluntary pledges that they will do something about their own carbon emissions in their own time if they get paid to do it.
Some proponents of the agreement are likely to argue that, while virtually everything the developing countries are asked to do in the agreement is voluntary, it is still important to put them on the record in support of the goals of carbon gas emission reductions and climate change adaptation. The offer of further financial assistance has helped convince many of the developing countries to sign on, which the proponents argue is an historic break-through in itself. A more accurate way to put it is that the Obama administration and its partners in the developed world are bribing the developing countries to give the appearance of a universal agreement.
For those who are worried about new legal obligations imposed on industrialized countries to subsidize the developing countries with massive transfers of monies and technologies, proponents will likely point to a separate “decision” document accompanying the agreement that would appear to allay such concerns. This document states that “Article 8 of the Agreement does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation.” However, this liability disclaimer clause is misleading in that it applies to only one of the articles containing language committing the developed countries to provide more funding to the developing countries. Article 8 deals specifically with the category of projected financial support from industrialized countries allocated to “loss and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and slow onset events,” such as rising sea levels and desertification. Article 9, however, contains broader financial commitments as to which there is no liability disclaimer.
Article 9 states that “Developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention.” It goes on to say that “Other Parties are encouraged to provide or continue to provide such support voluntarily.” (Emphasis added). Article 9 is thus written in such a way as to be legally binding on the developed countries like the United States but not economic powerhouses like China and India, which are still considered “developing” countries and are only urged to consider providing “support voluntarily.”
The industrialized countries have already committed to jointly mobilize a total of $120 billion annually for the developing countries’ use, beginning in 2020. This is on top of ongoing foreign aid and development funding. The expectation is that the bulk of the financing will come from public sources, which ultimately means the taxpayers. Article 9 requires the developed countries to report biennially “projected levels of public financial resources to be provided to developing country Parties.” The Obama administration is not waiting. It has already committed billions of dollars of taxpayer money to funding for the developing countries’ climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. And John Kerry has threatened that President Obama would be prepared to veto any bill that seeks to strip away authorization for such funding.
The annual $120 billion financing from developed countries is established as a floor. In the decision document accompanying the agreement, it states that “prior to 2025 the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Paris Agreement shall set a new collective quantified goal from a floor of USD 100 billion per year, taking into account the needs and priorities of developing countries.” The agreement imposes no specific conditions on the developing countries’ entitlement to these funds other than presumably to sign on as a party to the agreement, submit their voluntary, non-enforceable action plan and agree to non-enforceable reporting and monitoring measures.
In short, the climate change agreement can be summarized this way: We pay for the developing countries to play the carbon emission reduction game with us, but only we and a few other “rich” countries are actually all in.
President Obama claimed that the climate change agreement was “a tribute to American leadership” shown by his own administration since he took office. As was the case with the fundamentally flawed nuclear Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action it entered into with Iran, however, the Obama administration’s zealous pursuit of a nice-sounding climate change agreement has led the United States into a sucker’s deal.