Nicholas Stern is one of the world’s über-environmentalists, the author of the famous Stern Review, a 700-page study released by the British government in 2006, which concluded, “Climate change is a serious global threat, and it demands an urgent response.” Eight years on, Stern professes himself satisfied that the 13-day, 20th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate, concluded last week in Lima, Peru, is an important step towards a new agreement at the climate change summit to be held in Paris in December 2015. Of course, Stern and others in the climate change crowd agree there is much work to be done by then, and even after a deal is reached.
That may well be, but neither the Lima agreement nor what is yet to come has much to do with whether the goal of this exercise, set in Copenhagen in 2009 by world leaders, will be obtained—to prevent global temperatures from rising by 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, thereby averting floods and droughts, storms and insects, and perhaps even the plagues visited upon the Egyptians by a wrathful God. The U.N. Environmental Program reported last month that to avoid this 2-degree increase and the catastrophic damage it is forecast to bring, global emissions must peak by around 2025 and fall to half their current level by 2050.
That’s a tall order for three reasons. First, Latin American and other poor countries (and some not-so-poor ones) are desperate for growth and see green policies as impediments to growth. Second, many participating countries do not even have the ability to measure their emissions, which should be a prerequisite for proving that commitments have been met. Finally, President Obama is insisting that the goals nations set for themselves be nonbinding. He points out that despite America’s failure to sign the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, we have met its target, no matter that it took a huge increase in supplies of natural gas and a long recession to get us there.
Obama has no choice but to rely on some form of voluntary compliance. Recall that the Senate in 1997 voted 95-0 to set conditions for ratifying Kyoto that the Clinton-Gore administration knew it could not meet. So President Clinton, taking the Senate’s advice that it would not consent, did not send the proposed treaty for ratification, although Al Gore nevertheless went ahead and signed it, to no effect other than to secure his standing as America’s greenest politician. Kyoto expires in 2020, and the purpose of next year’s meeting in Paris is to replace it with . . . well, certainly not with another treaty that will not be ratified by the Senate. Instead, each country is to come to the table in March to lay out its “intended nationally determined contribution” [INDC] to reducing its emissions starting in 2020.
Those INDCs, which some countries say they cannot contrive until June, will cover 50 shades of green, a spectrum ranging from Obama’s dark green, to Canada’s, Australia’s, and Russia’s shades of pale green, and on through India’s forget green, we prefer coal-gray. The developing countries are interested in a different kind of green—greenbacks. They were exempted from the Kyoto Protocol and surrendered that exemption in Lima in return for promises of cold cash and treatment that differentiates them from developed countries, e.g., no outside monitoring. They say: We are where we are because the rich countries have been sending emissions skyward since the industrial revolution, and therefore
the wealthy countries should shoulder most of the burden of reducing emissions, and transfer large sums to developing countries to compensate us for joining the battle to reduce emissions. The relation of these demands to problems created by their cooperation in reducing emissions is somewhat unclear: Similar demands had been put to the developed world well before climate change became an issue and a new bottle into which to pour this old wine. The Lima award for chutzpah was won by Saudi Arabia, which is demanding compensation from wealthier countries, if any there be, for oil revenues the kingdom might lose as a result of any emission-reduction policies that result from these meetings.
President Obama pledged $3 billion of taxpayers’ money (specific source of funds as yet unidentified) to the Green Climate Fund, a U.N. agency in South Korea (headquarters for these sorts of organizations get spread around the world), matching the total pledged by Germany, France, and South Korea. Japan says it will toss $1.5 billion into the pot, and other countries have contributed enough to meet the fund’s initial capitalization goal of $10 billion. That still leaves it more than a bit short of the $100 billion annually developed countries pledged to mobilize back in 2009.