Saturday, 8 April 2017
Trump cuts show Paris treaty is a paper tiger: Bjorn Lomborg
The science is clear-cut: Climate change is real and mostly caused by humanity. Obama committed America to major carbon cuts.
According to the International Energy Agency, the U.S. promised to cut more energy-related CO2 emissions than any country in the world from 2013 to 2025, under the Paris climate treaty.
The problem is that this promise never had much ground in reality.
The primary measure America offered to achieve the promised cuts was the Clean Power Plan, which required the U.S. power sector to reduce CO2 emissions.
Yet this plan, even if fully enacted, would have achieved just a third of the U.S. promises under the Paris Agreement. If it had remained in effect for the entire century, my peer-reviewed research using United Nations climate change models found that it would have reduced temperature rises by an absolutely trivial 0.023 Fahrenheit at the end of this century.
Without the Clean Power Plan, U.S. emissions will likely increase slightly.
Yet, despite eliminating the actual policy that it relied on to achieve its promises, America will remain party to the Paris treaty, which has been sold to the world as the ultimate deal to fix climate change.
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This absurd situation shows that the treaty is nothing but a paper tiger: Its only legal underpinning is that all nations submitted promises — but those promises do not need to be kept.
In truth, Trump’s action just exposes what we have known for a while: The Paris Agreement is not the way to solve global warming.
Even if every nation fulfilled everything promised — including Obama’s undertakings — it would get us nowhere near achieving the treaty’s much-hyped, unrealistic promise to keep temperature rises under 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The U.N. itself has estimated that even if every country lived up to every single promised carbon cut between 2016 and 2030, emissions would be cut by just one-hundredth of what is needed to keep temperature rises below 2 C.
My analysis, similar to findings by scientists at MIT, shows that even if these promises were extended for 70 more years, then they'd only reduce temperature rises about 0.3 degrees F by 2100.
Moreover, many poor nations signed up to the treaty largely because of a promise of $100 billion a year of "climate aid" from rich nations, starting from 2020. Over the past five years, rich countries have managed to come up with only a 10th of one year’s promise.
It is only a matter of time before taxpayers from wealthy nations balk at the bill waiting for them. That will make many developing countries back out of the whole process.
This climate approach rehashes a failed policy that wasted decades: From 1998, the Kyoto Protocol was sold as the solution to climate change, although every honest analysis already showed that its impact would be trivial. Yet it kept governments, non-profit organizations and pressure groups focused on living up to the protocol rather than finding effective solutions to climate change.
Unless we change tack, the preoccupation with a similarly toothless Paris treaty will waste decades more.
The underlying problem with the treaty is that today’s green solar and wind technology is still very inefficient, requiring hundreds of billions in annual subsidies for trivial carbon cuts. Therefore, trying to cut emissions significantly requires not just buying off poor nations, but also very high costs.
Calculations using the best peer-reviewed economic models show the global price tag of all the Paris promises — through slower gross domestic product growth from higher energy costs — would reach $1 trillion to $2 trillion every year from 2030.
And if America had managed to pass carbon-cutting policies to live up to its big promises, analysis shows that it would have reduced U.S. GDP by more than $150 billion each and every year throughout the century.
We need to focus instead on innovating the price of green energy down below fossil fuels. This would be a much more effective response to climate change, and speed up temperature cuts.
A panel of Nobel laureates for the project Copenhagen Consensus on Climate found that the best long-term policy should focus on dramatic increases in global energy research and development. Fortunately, a group led by Bill Gates has already stepped up to promise a doubling to $30 billion. Yet, our researchers showed that we should be even more ambitious and increase this sixfold, to reach at least $100 billion a year.
Trump campaigned on massive increases in infrastructure spending. Especially given he has proposed budget cuts to clean energy agencies, it is to be hoped that more money is allocated to energy R&D.
Climate science cannot be ignored: Global warming is a challenge that deserves a response. Even so, chasing a treaty of empty promises is no response at all.
Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030, and a visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School.