Last week, leaders from around the globe have gathered in Paris to finalize a years-in-the-making accord designed to limit global greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama has placed the issue front-and-center on his agenda, surely with at least one eye on achieving a global agreement in the now-waning days of his time in the White House.
All of this seems sensible enough in theory. In practice, however, the Paris summit is little more than political grandstanding, with very little to show for in the way of action, and even less in terms of the agreement’s actual effect on global temperatures.
Here’s why: While the specifics within the agreement are (perhaps not unintentionally) ambiguous, the reality is that global emissions reduction is essentially an afterthought with respect to the actual agreement in Paris. Oren Cass, a climate policy expert at the Manhattan Institute, sums it up nicely:
In fact, emissions reductions are barely on the table at all (emphasis added). Instead, the talks are rigged to ensure an agreement is reached regardless of how little action countries plan to take. The developing world, projected to account for four-fifths of all carbon-dioxide emissions this century, will earn applause for what amounts to a promise to stay on their pre-existing trajectory of emissions-intensive growth.
In other words, what we are seeing in Paris is a bunch of global leaders, desperate to cement their legacies as having done something to address climate change, more focused on agreeing for the sake of agreeing, rather than agreeing to take action. Nor are the coming new rules even enforceable. Cass continues:
After all this, the final submissions are not enforceable, and carry no consequences beyond “shame” for noncompliance — a fact bizarrely taken for granted by all involved.
So… this is how global leaders spend their time?
But let’s take it one step further: Suppose every participating country actually complied with the prohibitively expensive, unenforceable rules being discussed in Paris. Would it save the world? Cass brings it home:
Perhaps not surprisingly, the submitted plans are even less impressive than the process that produced them. In aggregate, the promised emissions reductions will barely affect anticipated warming. A variety of inaccurate, apples-to-oranges comparisons have strained to show significant progress. But MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change calculates the improvement by century’s end to be only 0.2 degrees Celsius. Comparing projected emissions to the baseline established by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change back in 2000 shows no improvement at all.
If you’re asking us, that’s a whole lot of hot air to do, well, a whole lot of very little.
What do you think? Do you have high hopes for sweeping changes in Paris, or is this yet another example of political bluster that wears all of us out? Give us your take on our Facebook page.