Economic Growth: The Real Climate Consensus

Posted on Wed 12/16/2015 by


20080605_hawkins_b_2008By William R. Hawkins ~

The mainstream media, encouraged by the Obama administration, has heralded the United Nations climate agreement reached Saturday (Dec. 12), after a hectic 13 days of negotiations in Paris (and six years of haggling before that) as “historic” and “ambitious” with its pledge of holding global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. That 196 countries signed the agreement is said to indicate a world-wide consensus that climate change is the greatest threat to humanity. Yet, an examination of the actual document and a look at the long process of its writing reveals just the opposite.

20151214_parisclimate2015            The parties to the convention clearly held that economic growth and the improvement of living conditions, particularly the alleviation of poverty, are the real priorities. And the freedom of nations to pursue their own policies in pursuit of theses goals of material development and social progress is given absolute protection in the UN agreement.

Article 2 of the agreement states the goal of limiting global warming, but Article 4 opens:

In order to achieve the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2, Parties aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible, recognizing that peaking will take longer for developing country Parties, and to undertake rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, so as to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century, on the basis of equity, and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

This passage makes it clear that economic growth sets the context of any climate actions, and that the time frame is indeterminant and can run past 2050, a time frame too long to be meaningful. China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases has held solid to its position that it will not peak until 2030; meaning it will continue to increase its output for the foreseeable future. President Xi Jinping in his opening speech in Paris stated that China would only be increasing its use of non-fossil fuel to 20 percent of energy production. The United States has already exceeded this Chinese goal.

Paragraph 2 of Article 4 establishes the freedom of each nation to pursue its own agenda:

Each Party shall prepare, communicate and maintain successive nationally determined contributions that it intends to achieve. Parties shall pursue domestic mitigation measures with the aim of achieving the objectives of such contributions.

The formal term used throughout the UN proceedings was “intended nationally determined contributions.” The only real obligation in the agreement is that each government report to the UN, in five year cycles starting in 2020, what they “intend” to do. They are not required to do anything. The word “voluntary” is used often, as are “urges”, “requests” and “invites.” Nations can justify their actions (or inactions) as they see fit, setting them within the larger context of economic development.

On December 11, the day before the final text of the UN agreement was presented, a spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry set out its national priorities, “China is pressing ahead with industrialization, urbanization and modernization while dealing with multiple challenges including economic growth, poverty reduction, improvement of people’s livelihood, environmental protection and climate change.” President Xi has set as goals the doubling of his country’s 2010 GDP by 2020 and the moving of one billion Chinese into urban settings by 2030.

During the Paris meeting, Beijing and other major Chinese cities experienced “red alert” pollution levels. The regime is discussing ways to reduce air pollution, but this is a different issue than “climate change.” Air pollution is a health issue which can be addressed with cleaner ways to burn coal and gasoline, as has been done in the U.S. It does not mean abandoning coal fueled power plants or automobiles as the Greens demand on the vainglorious presumption of influencing planetary climate trends. China will be building dozens of new nuclear power plants, but will also continue to build coal plants along with solar and wind farms. Energy independence will be more of a motive for these projects than any worry about climate change.

Another official UN term that dates back to the creation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 is “common but differentiated responsibilities.” This was at the core of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol which divided the world into the developed and the developing countries. The developed countries (mainly the U.S. Canada, Western Europe and Japan) were to do everything in terms of cutting back, while the developing countries were not required to do anything. The new agreement is an improvement, thanks to the U.S. which did not join the Kyoto agreement because of this division of burdens. President Barack Obama, much to everyone’s surprise, held to this American position, thus blocking a 2009 agreement in Copenhagen. Now, no nation is required to do anything, all are equal in their freedom.

However, there is still an implied division in the new UN text which the developing member states insisted upon. Paragraph 4 of Article 4 reads:

Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances.

So the West “shall” act, while the rest are only “encouraged” to act. The founding document of the UNFCCC gives the developing countries the out they need stating “the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and developmental needs” thus confirming from the start the growth priority.

The controversial term itself appears in the last paragraph of Article 4:

All Parties should strive to formulate and communicate long-term low greenhouse gas emission development strategies, mindful of Article 2 taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

This division is also manifest in the text regarding the need for the developed countries to give money and technology to the developing countries to help them fight climate change.

The preamble to the text throws in the usual gaggle of other considerations that can justify constraints on acting against climate change:

Taking into account the imperatives of a just transition of the workforce and the creation of decent work and quality jobs in accordance with nationally defined development priorities,

Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations.

Food security is also mentioned several times, a counter to those who think the farm animals that provide meat and dairy products to a hungry world should be done away with as a threat to the climate (just like human “animals” are evil in Green eyes).

China, India and the G-77 of developing countries were the real powers at the UN talks, insisting that no outside entity was going to tell them what to do or limit their “right” to grow. Even President Obama acknowledged this outcome in his statement Saturday night, noting that the agreement was based on the principle that “countries set non-binding targets for themselves.” Statesmen understand the real needs of their nations and people; they are not carried away by the latest follies of alchemy.

Unfortunately, President Obama is not part of the global consensus favoring human progress. He has offered his own draconian, growth-killing proposals to be enforced by administrative decree; like crippling regulations on power plants and blocking the Keystone XL pipeline. In Paris, Obama proclaimed, “I set a new target:  America will reduce our emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years from now.” The negative impacts on the American economy will be felt after he leaves office. The UN agreement will not be offered to Congress for ratification, but Obama will still claim that it legitimizes, even requires, that his extremist agenda be implemented. It doesn’t.

What economic program the U.S. adopts will be the result of domestic politics, as it should be. The proper interpretation of what happened in Paris is that national sovereignty remains intact. Our future is still in our own hands—especially as those hands reach for ballots. Our next president can still put America back on a growth track. Contributing Editor William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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