President Donald Trump was right to announce the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Under the 2015 agreement, China committed to stop increasing its carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 2030, while the United States agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (81 percent of which is CO2) by between 26 percent and 28 percent below its 2005 levels by 2025.
Aside from the fact that scientific evidence does not support the need to reduce CO2 emissions in the first place, this asymmetry made no sense. Letting China, the world’s largest emitter, increase CO2 emissions over this period, while restricting the United States, would result in even more industries moving to China. Total global CO2 emissions would then likely rise even faster.
The situation is actually more unbalanced than it appears because, in contrast to the burdens imposed on developed countries, China and other developing nations apparently need not ever curtail emissions.
Climate Treaty Terms
The Paris Agreement specifies:
“The Parties to this Agreement,
• Being Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC] …
• In pursuit of the objective of the [UNFCCC] Convention, and being guided by its principles …..”
This reaffirms the fact that UNFCCC, approved by President George H. W. Bush and other world leaders at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is the cornerstone upon which UN climate agreements, including the Paris Agreement, are based.
Yet UNFCCC Article 4 states, “The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.”
This means, under Paris and the other treaties based on the UNFCCC, any commitments developing countries make to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions are conditioned on developed countries giving them enough money and technology to cover the costs.
Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt confirmed this in a Fox News interview on October 17, 2017, telling Neil Cavuto, “India conditioned all of the responsibilities on receiving $2.5 trillion of aid.”
Sort of Conditional Commitments
But even if developed countries give developing countries everything promised, under the UNFCCC developing countries may apparently still ignore any commitments they make to cap or reduce emissions if such commitments interfere with their “first and overriding priorities [of] economic and social development and poverty eradication.”
By contrast, developed nations are expected to keep their emission reduction commitments no matter how it impacts their economies.
UN climate change bureaucrats have not hidden this inequity. They have repeatedly explained “development and poverty eradication” is the most important issue for developing countries. Addressing climate change clearly takes a back seat.
Significantly reducing CO2 emissions in developing countries would almost certainly involve dramatically reducing the use of coal, the source of well over half of the electricity generated in China and India. As coal is the cheapest source of power in most of the world, reducing or capping CO2 emissions by reducing coal use would obviously interfere with development priorities. So, no matter what they promise with respect to emissions cuts or caps, developing countries are unlikely to follow their commitments, citing UNFCCC Article 4 in support of their actions.
‘Different National Circumstances’
It has been suggested the Paris climate agreement’s statement that countries’ responsibilities will be decided “in light of different national circumstances” will impose more stringent requirements on poor nations as they further develop. That is improbable.
The UNFCCC treaty, especially Article 4 establishing the favored treatment given developing nations, has been the foundation of all UN climate negotiations thereafter.
Developing nations are unlikely to let this change. Chinese negotiator Su Wei stated at the Peru UN climate conference in 2014 the purpose of the Paris Agreement is to “reinforce and enhance” the UNFCCC, not rewrite it.
Time to Go
It is clearly time for the United States to withdraw from the UNFCCC completely, which is allowed with merely one year’s notice.
Once out of the UNFCCC, the United States will be free of all agreements based on the treaty. This includes the Paris climate agreement, the Green Climate Fund, and the 2013 “Warsaw international mechanism for loss and damage associated with climate change impacts,” under which developed nations could be held responsible for potentially trillions of dollars in liability for damages from extreme weather events in developing countries, damages that are supposedly the fault of developed countries for their past and continuing sin of using fossil fuels.
To adhere to his original campaign promise to “stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to UN global warming programs,” Trump could endeavor to withdraw from, or ignore, each of the UNFCCC agreements one at a time. But it is far better to be finished with the hugely expensive and unscientific UNFCCC climate fiasco once and for all.
“This really is a case where cutting the tail off the dog all at once, rather than an inch at a time, is the right move,” said Joe Bast, director and senior fellow at The Heartland Institute. “It would be the shot heard around the world and bring the whole manmade global warming house of cards tumbling down.”
Tom Harris ([email protected]) is executive director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition and a policy advisor to The Heartland Institute. An earlier version of this article was published at the MasterResource website.