International climate change talks kicked off on Monday in Cancun, Mexico, and the expectations aren’t nearly as high as they were last year at the summit in Copenhagen, where no country committed to any legal binding agreement.
This year in Cancun, leaders from nearly 200 countries will come together at the 16th Conference of the Parties to be held under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. But the climate summit has much less hype than last year, because the reasons Copenhagen failed still apply this year: the economic costs of reducing carbon emissions, the intransigence of nations like China and India to commit to CO2 cuts, the disagreement on how much money developed nations should transfer to developing nations to cope with climate change, and the reality that proponents of binding carbon cuts overhyped the scientific realities of climate change.
Although some world leaders are hopeful that Cancun will lay the foundation for next year’s international climate change summit, the truth is that the economic tradeoff associated with reducing carbon dioxide emissions is too great of an obstacle for developed countries and rapidly developing countries. Developing countries will continue to push for exemption from emissions restrictions even though that would undermine any possibility of meeting emissions targets as they rapidly expand fossil fuel use.
What’s worse is that we don’t know how much fossil fuel countries like China, the world’s largest emitter of CO2, are using. The Heritage Foundation’s Derek Scissors writes, “China stopped publishing coal production figures in March, possibly because it was about to cross the threshold of half of global consumption and certainly because the coal figures are embarrassing on a number of dimensions.”
But that’s just one of several insurmountable obstacles. With each passing year, it’s clear that international climate change talks are less about climate and more about wealth redistribution. The Copenhagen conference last year quickly devolved from a discussion on how to cost-effectively curtail greenhouse gas emissions into a browbeating session designed to get developed countries to accept massive economic costs arising from carbon dioxide cuts and to provide billions of dollars in wealth transfers (up to $100 billion annually was discussed in Copenhagen last year) to help developing nations cope with the projected consequences of a changing climate. In other words, developing countries are quick to use global warming fears as an excuse for a handout.
One area in which developed and developing countries could work together to promote economic prosperity and environmental sustainability is to open up markets and allow for countries to trade for more economically and environmentally efficient products and technologies. Furthermore, as standards of living and per capita incomes increase, so does the ability for developing countries to afford protecting the environment. Green protectionism has the opposite effect.
While the climate is changing and it affects some areas of the world more than others, the need to reduce carbon dioxide is not the crisis that alarmists purport it to be, and the urgency to tackle climate is not what it was just a few years ago. The ineffectiveness of the United Nations’ climate talks suggests that the 16th meeting should be the last.
Nicolas Loris is a Research Assistant at The Heritage Foundation’s Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. Loris studies energy, environment and regulation issues such as the economic impacts of climate change legislation, a free market approach to nuclear energy and the effects of environmental policy on energy prices and the economy.
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