December 16, 2015 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Sovereignty

A Climate Deal Worth a Small Degree of Success

Figuring out what to make of the climate change talks recently held in Paris isn’t as easy as you might think. Talk about a confusing atmosphere.

There was the positive: The Paris deal “establishes the enduring framework the world needs to solve the climate crisis,” President Obama said. “I believe this moment can be a turning point for the world.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called it “a monumental success for the planet and its people.”

There was the negative: “In the hot, sodden mess that is our planet as 2015 drags to a close, the pact reached in Paris feels, in a lot of ways, like an ambitious agreement designed for about 1995, when the first conference of parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Berlin,” The New York Times editorialized. It’s too modest and unenforceable for them. Others were cautiously optimistic.

One common refrain, however, was that this is just a start. We’re told we need to do more. How much more? What can we do to parlay this “monumental success” into the solution the president spoke of? U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said this in Paris:

“Even if every American citizen biked to work, carpooled to school, used only solar panels to power their homes, if we each planted a dozen trees, if we somehow eliminated all of our domestic greenhouse gas emissions, guess what? That still wouldn’t be enough to offset the carbon pollution coming from the rest of the world. If all the industrial nations went down to zero emissions it wouldn’t be enough, not when more than 65 percent of the world’s carbon pollution comes from the developing world.”

Ahem. I think Mr. Kerry might have gone off-script with those remarks, but I’m glad he did. It was a refreshing bit of honesty — because the United States could indeed cut its emissions by 100 percent and make virtually no dent in global-warming levels. According to climate experts Paul Knappenberger and Patrick Michaels, the climate regulations the Obama administration are imposing on the energy sector will reduce warming by 2100 by 0.018 degrees Celsius.

That’s right. A tiny fraction of one degree. Over an 85-year period.

Ah, but you won’t have to wait nearly as long for the higher cost of energy to be passed on to all Americans. And not just in the form of higher utility bills (which are already bad enough), but in the cost of nearly everything. After all, the businesses that you use will be facing higher bills, too. That increase will be paid by you as well.

More than 80 percent of America and the world’s energy needs are met through carbon-emitting conventional fuels such as natural gas and coal. Setting up a “Green Climate Fund” and promising billions to subsidize green energy isn’t going to make the transition even remotely easy or affordable.

And remember, according to those who are cheering the Paris deal, the goals are a starting point, remember? They fully expect (indeed, are demanding) that this is a floor, not a ceiling — that nations will come back in the years ahead and commit to more draconian cuts to bring their emissions down further.

Yet this remains a hard sell to a public more concerned about terrorism than about climate change. So the administration has gone so far as to try and link the two issues, making the absurd claim that climate change is a matter of national security.

“What we know is that, as human beings are placed under strain, then bad things happen,” Mr. Obama told CBS. “And, you know, if you look at world history, whenever people are desperate, when people start lacking food, when people are not able to make a living or take care of their families, that’s when ideologies arise that are dangerous.”

We need less hot air, all right. Too bad this deal won’t reduce the political kind.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Ed Feulner is founder of the Heritage Foundation. This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times.