International climate diplomacy is necessarily a joke.
Here’s the cold, hard set-up to the joke: The international system of world states is defined by self-help. This is because there is no global policeman to enforce lofty international goals set by high minded cosmopolitans. Nations of the world may one day by reason bind together and achieve perpetual peace and harmony, but we’re nowhere near there yet. And until then, nation states will conduct their relations with one another based on their selfish interests alone.
With this maxim in mind, now consider the scope of the climate diplomat’s task. According to the International Energy Agency, it would cost $45 trillion to control the world’s thermostat. And this is likely a lowball. Remember, 90% of the world’s energy production is derivative of combusting fossil fuels, the “cause” of supposedly terrifying global warming. Energy, in turn, is a necessary component of all acts of economic production. Therefore, in order to “do something” about climate change, the entire global economy would have to be reordered in accordance with the commands of some centralized entity. Global communism is not an inapt parallel for climate change mitigation policy.
Given the cold, hard truth set forth above, and accounting as well for the hugeness of the undertaking that is seeking to set planet’s temperature, and you are left with an inescapable conclusion: Not Gonna Happen. There is simply no precedent for interstate burden sharing on the order of $45 trillion, short of world war. While wrong–way Jon Chait deems AGW to be a threat as big if not bigger than Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, his ridiculous viewpoint is shared by no one save for environmental zealots, and perhaps climate diplomats.
What, for example, does Jon Chait and his ilk think could happen this December in Paris, which is hosting the latest UN-sponsored conference to “save the plant”? The U.S. position is set. President Obama can pledge emissions cuts commensurate with the regulations his administration imposed. Nor does the President have an independent kitty of cash he can put on the table. Similarly, the European Union position is set. They’ve committed to 40% reductions through 2030; that’s not going to change. Japan and Canada blew through their Kyoto Protocol targets, and have since embraced coal use and unconventional oil production, respectively.
So, what’s going to change? What could Paris accomplish? Will the developed countries, with their unmovable goals and priorities, browbeat rapidly developing countries like China and India into submitting to the west’s green demands?
[As an aside, I’m here reminded of President Obama’s most humiliating moment abroad. In December 2009, at the last UN-climate confab to “save the planet,” President Obama made a dramatic and unexpected visit, the lowlight of which was his banging on the door of a meeting with Chinese and Indian delegations and demanding entrance, having to sneak in, and then being ignored in front of a gaggle of reporters.]
When the world is seen through the realist lens, climate diplomacy is rightfully identified as absurd theatre. There is no possible endpoint, so jet setting climate diplomats must get busy pretending to make progress. And because there’s only a limited number of ways to make believe diplomatic progress, these pretensions soon become hilarious.
Consider the actions of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (i.e., the body of climate diplomats) in the run-up to Paris.
Hundreds of UNFCCC delegates (and their retinues) started in February in Geneva, where they produced an 86-page “negotiating text.” Then, in June, they met in Bonn, where they agreed on a “streamlined and consolidated” text that was…one page shorter. That’s the climate diplomat’s idea of “consolidated”—knocking one page off an amorphous 86 page text. Hilarious!
But the laughs don’t end there. A month later, they met in Lima. There, the “consolidated negotiating text” wasn’t further streamlined, but instead was reorganized into three sections. So they flew all the way to Lima, only to “reorganize” a text that was already “streamlined and consolidated.” Hilarious!
Nor did the funnies stop in South America. Early this month, the delegates met again, this time back in Bonn. After five days of negotiations, the “reorganized, streamlined, and consolidated” text barely changed, but the delegates did agree to give themselves a mandate to…”draft a text for the Paris agreement.” Which would seem to be square one. Hilarious!
Next month, they head back to Lima. Perhaps they will agree to change fonts on the document, and thereby further consolidate the text?
The incredible thing is that this has all been done before! Paris will be the twenty first conference of the parties to the UNFCCC over the last twenty years, and third such conference tasked with “saving the planet.”
And all the while the UNFCCC treads water, it must nonetheless justify its existence (and, by extension, all those flights to premium hotels in cities the world over). Invariably, these rationalizations are hilarious!
For example, Clean Technica reported that France’s chief climate diplomat “told a closing press conference that the week had seen an exchange of views, and that all parties now knew each other’s positions on all aspects of the deal.” What is he talking about?!? They’ve been negotiating the exact same matter, with the same fundamental divisions (i.e., who will pay for what) for twenty years. Of course all parties already know one another’s position. Hilarious!
Similarly, Ahmed Djoghlaf from Algeria, a UNFCCC co-chair, after Bonn declared that ““the glass is half empty but it is also half full,” which is a perfect platitude for a climate diplomat. It means nothing, but suggests there are more hotels to fly to. Hilarious!
Of course, the entire time the UNFCCC churns, the big questions remain unaddressed, as they have for two decades (and will remain). In Bonn’s wake, EcoWatch reported:
Two major hurdles remain as the Paris deadline nears: climate finance and emissions cuts.
These “two major hurdles” are, of course, the whole of the matter.
Hilarity aside, this is a message about hope. Namely, the hope of avoiding a harmful climate deal. Climate change mitigation carries tremendous costs, entailing the overhaul of the global economic system. Moreover, these costs are of an all-or-nothing variety. Mitigating climate change to the UN’s specification requires reorganizing the global economy, and nothing short of reorganizing the global economy. Half or even three-quarter measures won’t cut it. And the costs attendant to centrally planning the global economy would come at the expense of economic growth, which impedes poverty alleviation, which hurts human beings.
These tremendous costs, human and otherwise, only make sense in the face of catastrophic climate change. While it’s said that there’s a “consensus” that humans are driving the climate, there’s no such consensus that AGW would be catastrophic. Some, like Niskanen Center’s Jerry Taylor, estimate that there’s an 11% chance of climate doom by 2100 on a business as usual path. Others, like me, believe the planet (and humans) are much more resilient, and that the odds of catastrophic climate change to be on par with those of an asteroid strike. More to the point, I find claims of catastrophic climate change far too similar to a series of such doomsday-by-economic growth theories from years past (including resource depletion, “ecocide,” overpopulation, “human carrying capacity,” etc., etc.), all of which were a mere pretense for propagating political ends (collectivism, deindustrialization, or both).
At the same time, it also happens that global wealth creation is the best *solution* to non-catastrophic climate change. So if we put all our eggs in the all-or-nothing climate mitigation basket, and it turns out we can’t successfully centrally plan the global economy, and climate change isn’t the end of days, then we will have shot ourselves in the leg.