The Paris deal must die

National Post (National Edition) - - FP COMMENT - Bruce Pardy Bruce Pardy is Pro­fes­sor of Law at Queen’s Univer­sity.

Two weeks of cli­mate talks in Bonn ended last week with­out agree­ment on a draft ne­go­ti­at­ing text, the Wash­ing­ton Post re­ports. De­vel­op­ing coun­tries de­manded to know when the US $100bil­lion pack­age promised to them as part of the Paris cli­mate agree­ment would be forth­com­ing. Hope­fully, the an­swer will be “never” and that will lead to the end of the deal.

Paris is a cli­mate fairy tale. It has al­ways been more about money and pol­i­tics than the en­vi­ron­ment. Last year, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump wisely an­nounced that Amer­ica would with­draw. For de­vel­oped na­tions who still be­lieve Paris is a vi­able plan, the prospect of a mas­sive trans­fer of wealth un­der the guise of car­bon re­duc­tions must seem less at­trac­tive with­out the U.S. to help foot the bill. Still, other world lead­ers seem ir­ra­tionally com­mit­ted to pur­su­ing the real ob­jec­tives of Paris: wealth re­dis­tri­bu­tion, virtue sig­nalling and glob­al­ist gover­nance.

At the core of Paris, signed in 2015, and its 1992 umbrella doc­u­ment, the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, is the prin­ci­ple of “com­mon but dif­fer­en­ti­ated re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and re­spec­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties.” The term means that de­vel­oped coun­tries are ex­pected to go first, do more, and pay more. “To each ac­cord­ing to his needs, from each ac­cord­ing to his abil­i­ties,” as Marx wrote in a sim­i­lar vein.

The ob­jec­tive is to re­bal­ance re­sources. How much more must de­vel­oped coun­tries do and how many more dol­lars should they trans­fer? In the Paris ne­go­ti­a­tions, the par­ties con­firmed a breath­tak­ing min­i­mum trans­fer of US$100 bil­lion per year start­ing in 2020, with the ex­pec­ta­tion that higher amounts would be forth­com­ing as time pro­gressed. In ex­change, de­vel­op­ing coun­tries with high and ac­cel­er­at­ing car­bon emis­sions, such as China and In­dia, talked of re­duc­ing emis­sions, even­tu­ally, prob­a­bly.

At the time the UNFCCC was adopted in 1992, the greater share of global emis­sions did in­deed come from wealth­ier coun­tries. How­ever, that has not been the case since ap­prox­i­mately 2007 and an­nual emis­sions from de­vel­op­ing coun­tries now dwarf those from the de­vel­oped world. China be­came the world’s largest car­bon emit­ter in 2006 and by some es­ti­mates emits twice what the U.S. does an­nu­ally. Yet un­der Paris, China has said its an­nual emis­sions will keep grow­ing until 2030.

As a mat­ter of arith­metic, the life­styles of peo­ple in Western coun­tries do not pose nearly as acute a risk to green­house gas con­cen­tra­tions as even a small rise in per capita emis­sions from coun­tries with “emerg­ing” economies and enor­mous pop­u­la­tions. The Paris con­sen­sus blames the West for the world’s prob­lems while priv­i­leg­ing coun­tries that pose the most se­ri­ous threats. If the dan­ger is car­bon emis­sions, it is de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that are now the big­gest prob­lem.

Paris is more a move­ment than a le­gal frame­work. It imag­ines the world as a global com­mu­nity work­ing in sol­i­dar­ity on a com­mon prob­lem, mak­ing sac­ri­fices in the com­mon good, re­duc­ing in­equal­ity and tran­scend­ing the neg­a­tive ef­fects of mar­ket forces. In this fa­ble, cli­mate change is a cat­a­lyst for revo­lu­tion. It is the mon­ster cre­ated by cap­i­tal­ism that will turn on its cre­ator and bring the mar­ket sys­tem to the end of its nat­u­ral life. a new so­cial or­der will emerge in which mar­ket value no longer de­ter­mines eco­nomic de­ci­sions. Gov­ern­ments will ex­er­cise in­flu­ence over eco­nomic be­hav­iour by im­pos­ing “mar­ket-based mech­a­nisms” such as car­bon taxes and cap-and-trade sys- tems. En­light­ened lead­ers will di­rect en­ergy use based upon so­cial jus­tice val­ues and com­mu­nity needs. An in­ter­na­tional cul­ture will unite peo­ples in a cause that tran­scends their na­tional in­ter­ests, giv­ing way to the next stage of hu­man so­ci­ety. Be­tween the lines of the for­mal text, the Paris agree­ment reads like a so­cial­ist nightmare.

The regime at­tempts to es­tab­lish an es­ca­lat­ing global norm that re­quires con­tin­ual up­dat­ing, plan­ning and ne­go­ti­a­tion. To ad­here, gov­ern­ments are to su­per­vise, reg­u­late and tax the en­ergy use and be­hav­iour of their cit­i­zens (for ex­am­ple, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment’s in­sis­tence that all prov­inces im­pose a car­bon tax or the equiv­a­lent, to es­ca­late over time.) Yet for all of the do­mes­tic ac­tion it le­git­imizes, Paris does not ac­tu­ally re­quire it. Like the Us$100-bil­lion pledge, reduction targets are out­side the for­mal Paris agree­ment. They are vol­un­tary; nei­ther bind­ing nor en­force­able. Other coun­tries have con­demned Trump’s with­drawal and reaf­firmed their com­mit­ment to Paris but many of them, in­clud­ing Canada, are not on track to meet even their ini­tial prom­ises. Global emis­sions are rising again.

If hu­man ac­tion is not caus­ing the cli­mate to change, Paris is ir­rel­e­vant. If it is, then paris is an ob­sta­cle to ac­tual solutions. If there is a cri­sis, it will be solved when some­one de­vel­ops a low­car­bon en­ergy source as use­ful and cheap as fos­sil fu­els. A tran­si­tion will then oc­cur with­out gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tions and in­ter­na­tional dec­la­ra­tions. Until then, Paris will fix noth­ing. It serves in­ter­ests that have lit­tle to do with at­mo­spheric con­cen­tra­tions of green­house gases. Will Amer­ica’s re­pu­di­a­tion re­sult in its even­tual demise? One can hope.


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