Following through on a central campaign promise, Donald Trump has pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the much hyped 2016 deal that is supposed to keep global temperature rises in check. The agreement enjoys popular support, has 195 signatories and has currently been ratified by 148 countries.
A predictable global outrage followed Trump’s announcement. The deal is popular amongst the majority who sign up to the manmade climate change agenda and especially European politicians saw an opportunity for a double virtue signal, promoting the climate agenda and bashing an unpopular American president.
The agreement commits the signatories to endeavour to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to combat global warming, deferring to the mainstream opinion that climate change is man-made and government policy can keep it in check (we do not sign up to this consensus as we argue here). However, the deal suffers from some fatal flaws. The signatories define their own targets for emission reduction, the so-called ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDCs). Further, the deal is non-binding, with no repercussions or penalties for breach of the targets. Voluntary international deals with no enforcement mechanism have a bad track record. The obvious example, NATO, signs members up to a commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence. However, with no penalties for non-fulfilment, notoriously only the US lives up to the target. Every other country has continuously failed to live up this explicit target. There is an imbedded moral hazard that if one country delivers on its obligation, other countries benefit and can relax their own efforts. Why the Paris Agreement should fare better is not obvious.
But even if the agreement was implemented in full, the expected results are negligible. According to research by Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish professor who achieved global notoriety for his book The Sceptical Environmentalist, the ‘the climate impact of all Paris INDC promises is minuscule: if we measure the impact of every nation fulfilling every promise by 2030, the total temperature reduction will be 0.048°C (0.086°F) by 2100. Even if we assume that these promises would be extended for another 70 years, there is still little impact: if every nation fulfills every promise by 2030, and continues to fulfill these promises faithfully until the end of the century, and there is no ‘CO₂ leakage’ to non-committed nations, the entirety of the Paris promises will reduce temperature rises by just 0.17°C (0.306°F) by 2100.’ In other words, the best case is a laughably marginal impact on global temperatures. Why is this deal being hailed as the saviour of the planet?
Astonishingly, it also seems an important report that formed part of the academic foundation for the agreement relied on misleading data that exaggerated the extend of global warming. A report From America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) into the so-called pause in warming that occurred in the years after 1998 was released in the lead-up to the Paris conference, but a whistle blower later revealed that scientists were aware of the flaw in the data but chose to ignore it.
The cost of the agreement is not clear, but is likely to be substantial. Donald Trump’s reason for pulling out is mainly economics: protecting jobs in industries that will not be viable under the agreement. But the whole economy will suffer from a regime of carbon taxes and subsidies to uneconomic alternative energy. Reducing dependency on traditional carbon-based fuels is costly, but whereas rich countries may be able to bear the cost (by deprioritizing other expenditure and suffering the GDP loss), poor countries do not have that luxury. Poverty will rise in the developing world. This is never brought up in the mainstream debate, which concentrates more on pictures of polar bears on ice floes.
The deal, then, is unlikely to be, and ineffective if it is, adhered to. In fact, it amounts to nothing more than a massive virtue signal. The sad truth is that the deal is likely to do much more harm than good, but a climate hysteric public fails to recognize the huge costs. It is an example of why politics produces bad decisions, concerned more with appearances than substance and sucking up to a gullible, emotional electorate.