June 21, 2016 | Commentary on Energy and Environment, Climate Change, United Nations

The U.S. Should Withdraw from U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

The U.S. has wasted tens of billions of dollars on an ineffective approach to addressing man-made global warming. Unfortunately, the organization behind these efforts shows little interest in changing tactics. And now it has granted membership to the Palestinians. For practical as well as political considerations, it's time for the U.S. to get out.

The U.S. and most other nations signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. The UNFCCC's primary objective is to mitigate human-induced global warming, but the policies adopted have wasted taxpayer money, distorted energy markets and led to special treatment for politically preferred energy projects.

Most recently, the Obama administration used the UNFCCC as a vehicle to avoid Senate advice and consent on a treaty signed in Paris that commits the U.S. to drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. To meet this goal, the administration has imposed regulations severely restricting the use of coal and, to a lesser extent, oil and natural gas.

Since these fuels supply the vast majority of America's energy, these regulations will dramatically increase energy costs, stunt economic growth and force businesses to shed jobs. Yet the effect on global temperatures will be virtually nonexistent.

The UNFCCC approach is unworkable largely because it places the economic burden of addressing climate change on a few dozen developed countries while asking little or nothing from more the 150 developing countries. Yet the primary source of emissions is increasingly the developing world, most notably China and India. Though some developing countries have pledged to start restricting carbon dioxide emissions more than a decade from now, these commitments have largely been talk with little action.

And that's a good thing. Developing nations are rightly concerned about gaining access to affordable, reliable energy and improving their standards of living — not implementing expensive nonsolutions to a problem whose extent and impact remain uncertain.

Much has happened since the UNFCCC entered into force in 1994, but even more hasn't happened. In 2005 the U.N. Environment Program estimated that global warming would create 50 million "climate refugees" by 2010. In 2009 Al Gore predicted that the Arctic polar ice cap could be ice-free within seven years. The amount of warming predicted by climate models used by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change hasn't occurred. If these models can't predict climate impacts 10 or 15 years in the future, why should we undertake costly, anti-development policies to address predictions about what may happen 100 years from now?

In reality, the UNFCCC has little to do with combatting man-made warming and more to do with engineering fundamental economic change. Earlier this year, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres made this agenda clear: "This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution."

But this "change" would be an economic disaster that would un-develop industrialized nations and inhibit the world's poorest citizens from obtaining a better standard of living.

There is also a recent political complication. The Palestinians joined the UNFCCC as full members in March. Despite ridiculous assertions by the Obama administration that the UNFCCC — which has a $60 million budget, 500 employees and a headquarters building in Germany — is a treaty, not an international organization, this event should trigger provisions in federal law prohibiting U.S. funding. This means that the U.S. soon will be racking up debts to the UNFCCC that cannot be paid.

For practical and political reasons, the U.S. should withdraw from the UNFCCC. Not only would it save the U.S. taxpayer dollars, but it might be the shock needed to force the international community to reassess its ineffective approach to climate change.

About the Author

Nicolas Loris Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow in Energy and Environmental Policy
Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Brett D. Schaefer Jay Kingham Senior Research Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Originally published in The Washington Times