Mazzuca: Is the Paris Agreement on climate change serious? (column)
The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with greenhouse-gas-emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance.
It’s “stated goal” was to ensure that global temperatures do not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, with an unwritten target of keeping that increase below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
The agreement requires all signatories to reach this goal through “Nationally Determined Contributions” (NDCs) and to report on their greenhouse emissions. It should be noted however that there were no specific criteria to be met in each nation’s NDC. In fact, there’s not even a requirement to use the term greenhouse gases; rather the protocol stipulates that each signatory set its own goals and then promise to keep them.
While the accord has no “standards” per se, it was natural to assume each nation would follow the lead of the United States and set “specific and measurable” goals as former President Obama did when he committed the United States to reduce its greenhouse emissions 26 percent to 28 percent by 2025.
But Earth’s other two major polluters weren’t quite as enthusiastic, to wit: China, the world’s largest polluter, committed only “to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030 before starting to bring them down.” India, the world’s third-largest polluter, was even more noncommittal. Its NDC was “to reach a peak at some point in the future, and then begin reducing emissions.”
So while the United States promised to reduce it’s carbon emissions by 26-28 percent in eight years, our economic competitors, China and India, told the world they wouldn’t even begin reducing their emissions for well over a decade.
Tellingly, there are no enforcement mechanisms within the accord. The UN website addresses the matter this way: “There is no benefit to flouting the Agreement. Any short-term time gain will be short-lived. It will undoubtedly be overshadowed by negative reactions, by other countries, financial markets, and most important, by their citizens.”
As a practical matter, the accord relies on “international peer pressure” to induce governments to spend billions. At the same time, the Nature Conservancy tells us if humanity hopes to keep warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100, it must essentially stop emitting greenhouse gases by 2060.
Predictably, the delegates couldn’t agree about how to actually accomplish that, so they inserted an absolutely embarrassing “metric” into Article 4, Section 1, to wit: the Agreement’s “written goal” is to peak global greenhouse-gas emissions “as soon as possible.”
The most contentious aspect of the Paris Agreement was deciding how to deal with the multi-trillion dollar price tag. Since the accord includes no specific commitments about who pays whom for what or when, the delegates crafted the following: “Item 115: Resolves to enhance the provision of urgent and adequate finance, technology and capacity-building support by developed country Parties in order to enhance the level of ambition of pre-2020 action by Parties and in this regard strongly urges developed country Parties to scale up their level of financial support …”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton once said the rich world would “… mobilize $100 billion per year to help developing countries make their economies more sustainable and prepare for the storms to come.” Clinton made that statement 10 years ago — has anyone seen the money?
It’s not my intent to pick a fight with the climate apocalypticists, but I would be remiss if I didn’t question the seriousness of an agreement that doesn’t have a measurable time-bound goal, is enormously expensive with no funding mechanism and lacks the means to verify, track, monitor and enforce its provisions.
The United States had been reducing its carbon footprint since the Bush administration, but carbon emissions went up in 2018 after falling the previous three years. In fact, we again led the world in 2017 by reducing our carbon emissions another 40 million tons. Meanwhile, the signatories to the agreement cumulatively increased their greenhouse gas emissions by ten times the amount we reduced ours.
The signatory nations will go only as far as their respective budgets and economies allow. President Donald Trump acknowledged this reality when he pulled the U.S. out of the accord. He has said that the American taxpayer is not going to pick up the tab; if this is a cooperative effort, you need to pay your fair share.
Quote of the day: “If climate science is settled, why do its predictions keep changing?”— Charles Krauthammer
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, writes biweekly for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.