What Does Paris Mean?

Washington, D.C. — What to make of the results from this month’s Paris global warming gabfest? Both the Wall Street Journal editorial page and primo climate catastrophist James Hansen agree. Both have denounced the deal in Paris as a fraud.


Here’s Hansen, quoted in The Guardian, a left-wing British newspaper: “It’s a fraud, really, a fake. It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words.” Hansen wants a world-wide carbon dioxide tax, although no one, including Hansen, has a clue how to implement that in a world fragmented by sovereign nations.

Here’s the Journal, a paragon of conventional right-wing thought in America: “Forgive us for looking through the legacy of smoke, but if climate change really does imperil the Earth, and we doubt that it does, nothing coming out of a gaggle of governments and the United Nations will save it. What will help is human intervention and the entrepreneurial spirit. To the extent the Paris accord increases political control over human and natural resources, it will make the world poorer and technological progress less likely.”

I agree with both assessments, although I’m far closer to the Journal than Hansen overall. The Paris agreement – let’s all link hands and promise to do better, as in the legendary 1971 Coke ad – is empty rhetoric. It’s not even aspirational, as China and India have made clear that they value ending poverty in their countries over reducing carbon dioxide emissions. That’s what they should do, and mostly likely will. It’s what Africa should do, and most likely won’t, doing nothing about either poverty or greenhouse gas emissions.

The Paris agreements aren’t binding, and that’s not just because the U.S. Senate would never ratify a binding treaty. It’s because there isn’t a world-wide government and thus no mechanism to enforce allegedly binding agreements. The same is true for a carbon tax. It would have to be global, and globally collected and distributed. How would that work? I don’t think it could. Economist William Nordhaus has written, as the New Yorker magazine noted this week, that there is “no mechanism by which global citizens can make binding collective decisions.” Nor is there a way to prevent global free riding, which is what we can expect from India and China, and probably a lot of other countries.

Then there is what the Journal calls “the bribe,” which I discussed in an earlier blog posting as the Paris meeting began. The Journal editorial notes that “rich countries in Paris bought the cooperation of the developing world by promising to send $100 billion a year in climate aid. So the governments of the West are now going to dun their taxpayers to transfer money to the clean and green governments run by the likes of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.” Mugabe, one of Africa’s least attractive leaders on almost all fronts, made the case for the African countries in Paris.

As for the extortion, the New York Times commented that “even the $100 billion-a-year aspiration is mentioned in the ‘decision’ part of the document, not the ‘action’ section, to avoid triggering a review by the United States Senate. But it makes clear that the $100 billion — promised in 2009 in Copenhagen — is the bare minimum going forward.”

In American football, a phrase describes the trickery of a runner avoiding tacklers: “Give ‘em a leg, then take it away.” That describes the Paris agreement when it comes to bribes to the impoverished world. It appears unlikely that the U.S., the richest country in the world, will come up with significant funds to buy emissions reductions for anywhere else. Before the Paris meeting, the U.S. promised $3 billion in payments to developing countries. That’s impossible as long as Republicans control either the House or the Senate after the 2016 election, and very unlikely even if the Democrats can regain both (assuming the Democrats keep the White House).

The same offer was made and accepted six years ago in Copenhagen. It never came to fruition. Nothing has changed.

President Obama after Paris engaged in political contortionism, patting himself on the back claiming he played the key role in the final Paris agreement. Not true. His tactic of avoiding a Senate ratification vote on a treaty by claiming that the agreement isn’t binding underscores the hypocrisy of the entire event.

Nor is it clear that U.S. will be able to deliver on the offer it made in Paris to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions significantly. As a POWER conference on this month made clear, there are daunting legal and political hurdles to the administration’s Clean Power Plan to back out existing coal-fired generating plants.

Paris fraud? Hansen and the WSJ have it right.