Don't cry for the Paris Agreement
The Trump administration is terrifyingly wrong on a lot of things. The Paris Agreement isn't one of them.
President Trump is nuts on climate change.
For years he has called global warming a hoax and a conspiracy that the Chinese invented to "make American manufacturing non-competitive." And on Thursday, in his Rose Garden announcement of America's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate change agreement, he made the case against the Paris Agreement with his typical intellectual rigor: "Believe me, this is not what we need."
None of Trump's climate crazy talk, however, justifies the liberal hysteria over America's imminent withdrawal from the Paris agreement.
This accord was never going to save the planet — and hence, dumping it won't doom the Earth. If anything, it might trigger a search for realistic and workable fixes that don't involve putting the entire human race on an energy diet.
The environmental community was giddy with excitement over the 2015 Paris Agreement because the two major efforts before it — Kyoto in 1997 and Copenhagen in 2009 — went up in flames when the three major polluters (the United States, China, and India) accused each other of not doing enough to slash emissions and walked out.
Paris, however, embraced a different tactic. Instead of imposing emission cuts on nations from the top down, it asked each one to voluntarily put its best foot forward. The hope was that this would spur a race to the top as each country avoided skimping on cuts because it didn't want to look cheap. The other very big advantage of this approach was that because the reductions were voluntary, the agreement was arguably not a treaty. Hence President Obama could consent to it unilaterally without asking the Republican Senate to ratify it, which would never have happened.
But even at the time, British environmental writer Fred Pearce pointed out that Paris was "a victory for diplomacy that should not be confused with a victory for climate." That's because even if each nation religiously delivered on its promised cuts, the Earth would still end up 2.7 degrees centigrade hotter by the end of the century — 0.7 degrees more than what enviros believe is necessary to prevent the Earth from turning into a baked Cinnabon.
This is at least in part because nations used the Paris agreement to commit to watered-down emissions reduction plans. China, for example, promised only to reduce "emission intensity" — or emissions as a percentage of GDP — not actual emissions, at least until it reached peak emissions in 2030. India, likewise, committed to cutting carbon intensity — but only at half the rate of China's. Trump's favorite dictator, Vladimir Putin, put forth an emissions reduction plan that was actually an emissions increase plan. The United States pledged to cut emissions, but its targets were lower than those on the table in Copenhagen.
And remember, there is no guarantee that countries will achieve even these lame reductions. Committing plans to paper does not mean actually fulfilling them.
India, for example, has been praised for developing "the most ambitious renewable energy program in the world." It involves generating 40 percent of its installed electric power capacity from renewables. That includes 100 gigawatts of solar capacity that, Pearce points out, would be equivalent to replacing 100 large conventional power plants. But whether India, literally half of whose 1.3 billion-strong population lacks rudimentary access to electricity, will stick to this plan given its vast coal reserves is an open question. Indeed, India's leaders are notorious for saying one thing to the world and doing something quite different, even when it's in their country's interest to stick to their word. Consider India's pledge to meet by 2015 the Millennium Development Goals of eradicating poverty and hunger, cutting maternal mortality, attaining gender parity, and other good stuff. How did that work out? Even according to the country's dubious official figures, it missed many of its targets by that deadline.
Even a country like America, with a more functional government (at least until Trump took it over), was unlikely to deliver.
A big part of President Obama's climate action plan was to cut emissions from the transportation sector, which accounts for about a quarter of America's greenhouse gases. To achieve that goal he doubled the CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards for automakers from 25.5 miles per gallon in 2010 to 54.5 mpg by 2025.
This is and always was a huge scam.
CAFE requires car companies to lower the fuel economy not of each car model, but the average across their entire fleet. Furthermore, the reductions count against the vehicles manufactured, not those sold. So given that the popularity of gas-guzzling vehicles, such as SUVs, continues to rise in the face of falling fuel prices, what are car companies, especially American ones for whom SUVs are top sellers, doing? Essentially, they manufacture battery-powered and hybrid vehicles that don't sell so that they can meet their CAFE requirements to produce SUVs that do. It's like buying indulgences from the EPA to commit sins against the environment.
Detroit News auto writer Henry Payne has pointed out that the market share of SUVs grew 15 percent between 2010 and 2015. So it made sense that American automakers ramped up production of these vehicles. What doesn't make sense is that they also ramped up production of battery-powered hybrids during that time, given that their market share had flat-lined at 2.2 percent.
The upshot in the pre-Paris world was that actual fuel economy of vehicles on the road barely budged even as CAFE standards went up. There is no reason to believe the post-Paris world would be any different.
To the extent that America meets its emissions reduction targets, it won't be because of artificial mandates by government regulators, but technologies that organically emerge in energy markets. For example, the fracking revolution — that no bureaucrat saw coming and that the government actively stymied — has allowed America to switch from coal to natural gas for electricity generation. Natural gas emits only half as much carbon dioxide as coal — and it's also cheaper. That's why it did not have to be jammed down consumers' throats through mandates and subsidies.
Global warming cannot and should not be fought by massive international agreements. The battle will only be won when America's technology and energy sectors develop innovative solutions that present consumers with cleaner energy options that are obviously cheaper and better than what exists today. The Paris Agreement is so fixated on blaming and punishing humans because enviros barely care about finding solutions that would meet their needs. Should Trump's withdrawal cause the deal to collapse, it might finally signal to climate change warriors that they have to look for fixes that work with — not against — humans, even if they are to blame for the problem in the first place.
Lord knows that there is much to worry about when it comes to this administration's global policies, especially its ill-advised rhetoric demonizing NAFTA and other trade agreements. But dumping the phony Paris accord is not among them.