Climate Change Agreements: Solutions in Search of a Problem

climate change solutions

Originally published by The Georgia Public Policy Foundation

(Updated 9/29/20)

By Dave Emanuel

Earth Day arrived again on April 22, and along with it the also-predictable heated rhetoric by climate change alarmists who bolster their claims with articles and opinions and state, “Facts matter,” or, “Science matters.”

Not surprisingly, alarmists point to the burning of fossil fuels as the primary cause of carbon emissions and their effect on climate change. Not surprisingly, some form of taxation is cited as the primary means of reducing carbon emissions.

The alarms sounded about consequences are largely inspired by studies and models predicting the apocalypse based on historic patterns. Yet, as even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned in its 2007 report, “We should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled nonlinear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.”

Even if human activities and the burning of fossil fuels in particular are in fact a major cause of carbon dioxide emissions and rising CO2 levels are the primary driver of climate change, consider the inadequate proposals for ameliorating these anthropogenic effects.

The alarmists propose that the world’s nations agree to reduce industrial emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2. Representatives of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) declared the 1997 Kyoto Protocol treaty would lead to a significant reduction in CO2 emissions. Taking effect in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community (the United States did not ratify the treaty) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

NASA climate data shows, however, that from January 2005 through December 2016, 2016, atmospheric CO2 levels actually increased 34.04 parts per million. Meanwhile, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration data for the 11-year period preceding the treaty, CO2 levels increased just 21.87 ppm. Put simply, CO2 emissions increased 55.65 percent faster in the 11 years after the treaty than they did in the 11 years before.

The irony is while both organizations operate under U.N. auspices, the UNFCCC bases its proposals on historical data and the IPCC declares climate a chaotic system rendering predictions based on historical data impossible.

The 2016 Paris Agreement is another UNFCCC initiative allegedly designed to keep the sky from falling. Like Kyoto, it calls for all parties to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also recognizes “the importance of adequate and predictable financial resources, including for results-based payments, as appropriate, for the implementation of policy approaches and positive incentives for reducing emissions …”  

At its core, the Paris Agreement is an instrument of wealth redistribution. It specifies:  “prior to 2025 … 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.”

Specifying 100 billion US dollars – not euros – is a strong indication that signatory nations expect the United States to bear the bulk of the expense (as it does with U.N. funding). Further, distribution of the $100 billion from developed nations is determined by third parties, specifically, “the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility, the entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the Convention.”

The Paris Agreement is the first time a UNFCCC document seriously addresses deforestation, even though Businessweek, citing a Greenpeace study, reported in 2009 that carbon released from slash-and-burn techniques and deforestation accounts for 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, “a larger share than that from all the world’s cars, planes, ships, trains, and trucks combined.”

BP Global’s Statistical Review of World Energy reports, “Global CO2 emissions from energy in 2017 grew by 1.6 percent, rebounding from the stagnant volumes during 2014-2016, and faster than the 10-year average of 1.3 percent.”

By contrast, the 0.5 percent emissions decline in the United States is the ninth time this century the nation showed the largest decline in emissions and its third consecutive year of decline. U.S. carbon emissions from energy use are the lowest since 1992, when the UNFCCC was established.

The largest emissions increase came from China (1.6 percent), which had the world’s largest annual increments in carbon emission this century except in four years: 2000 and 2014-16. The next highest was India, where emissions rose 4.4 percent.

Together, China and India accounted for nearly half of the increase in global carbon emissions. European Union emissions rose 1.5 percent; Spain alone accounted for 44 percent of the increase.

The United States reduced CO2 emissions without a carbon tax, without a cap-and-trade scheme and without ratifying Kyoto or Paris. Most signatories to the UNFCCC initiatives saw their emissions increase or fell short of their targets.

Global population has more than doubled since 1959. It’s reasonable to conclude human activity has contributed to rising CO2 levels. To what extent that affects climate change is another, crucial, discussion. Judging by UNFCCC initiatives, however, that’s irrelevant. If the best response is programs that are thinly veiled taxes and wealth redistribution schemes, why even bother having a discussion?