Democrats Want to Rejoin the Paris Accord. Let’s Recall Why It Was Such a Bad Deal.

COMMENTARY Energy Economics

Democrats Want to Rejoin the Paris Accord. Let’s Recall Why It Was Such a Bad Deal.

Apr 15th, 2019 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Nicolas Loris

Deputy Director, Thomas A. Roe Institute

Nick is an economist who focuses on energy, environmental, and regulatory issues as the Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow.
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. introduced a bill that would block President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. Alex Wong / Staff / Getty Images

When the Obama administration negotiated the Paris climate agreement, conservatives argued that it should move through the proper treaty process and be sent to the Senate, where elected senators could weigh in and potentially reject the deal. 

President Barack Obama didn’t do that. Instead, he unilaterally signed the deal, making it all the more easy for a future president to un-sign it.

Now that President Donald Trump has announced his intent to withdraw from the costly, ineffectual agreement, House Democrats think it’s time to involve Congress. 

Last week, the House Foreign Affairs Committee advanced the Climate Action Now Act, a bill that would block the Trump administration from withdrawing from the Paris accord and enforce the commitments made under the Obama administration. Those commitments include reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2025 by 26-28% compared to 2005 levels.

Trump was right to announce his intent to withdraw from Paris. While the climate is indeed changing and human activity is playing a role, the chances of looming climate catastrophe are simply unrealistic and not grounded in reality.

But even granting such a looming catastrophe, the Paris Agreement itself would do little to alter the climate. To have any impact whatsoever on climate, the entire world would either have to quickly change the way it consumes energy or simply remain undeveloped. Both options are devoid of reality. 

While many countries are rapidly expanding their use of renewable power, forecasts indicate that coal, oil, and natural gas will continue to provide the overwhelming majority of the world’s energy needs well into the future. For developing countries, the highest priorities are to reduce energy poverty and improve living standards.

Those who are clamoring for action on climate change are the ones who should actually be most upset with what a sham the Paris agreement is. It’s been celebrated as a breakthrough achievement of the world’s developed and developing countries coming together, but it is anything but that. 

With no enforcement mechanisms in place and no repercussions for failing to meet emissions reduction targets, countries are essentially free to do whatever they want, meaning they will continue on their business-as-usual trajectory without making any changes. China, for instance, can peak its emissions in 2030 even though projections have their peak emissions falling before that year. 

India, for its part, has pledged to reduce its emissions levels, or cuts its ratio of carbon emissions to gross domestic product. That ratio may well go down so long as carbon emissions rise at a slower rate than GDP, but carbon emissions will keep rising all the same.  

Actually, India committed to emissions reductions that are less than what the country would achieve if it continues on the same track it is currently on today. In other words, it set the bar so low that it can continue along its businesses-as-usual trajectory of emissions intensity and come out looking like a climate hero. 

As the Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass wrote, “It’s easy to slim down to 180 pounds, if you weigh 175 to begin with.” 

Pakistan was more honest than most about its emissions prospects, stating bluntly, “Given the future economic growth and associated growth in the energy sector, the peaking of emissions in Pakistan is expected to take place much beyond the year 2030. An exponential increase of [greenhouse gas] emissions for many decades is likely to occur before any decrease in emissions can be expected.”

Global compliance with the Paris Agreement has been nothing short of abysmal. In fact, most nations will soon fail to meet the deadlines they agreed to. 

The original hope that each nation’s contribution might somehow push other countries to “do more” is not playing out. This deal was a hodgepodge of arbitrarily defined commitments with no enforcement mechanism. It was doomed from the start.

Following through with the Obama administration’s commitments would impose clear economic harm on the U.S. by driving energy prices higher—and that’s just a small part of the overall cost. Americans would pay more for food, health care, education, clothes, and every other good and service that requires energy. 

These higher costs would be spread across the entire economy and would shrink overall economic growth and employment. Heritage Foundation analysts estimated that the regulations required to meet the Obama administration’s commitments would impose the following costs by 2035: 

  • An overall loss of nearly 400,000 jobs, half of which would be in manufacturing.
  • A average total income loss of more than $20,000 for a family of four.
  • An aggregate GDP loss of over $2.5 trillion.

Other countries would continue getting a free pass under the agreement, but if the U.S. signed back on, one can be sure that environmental activist lawsuits would make sure the U.S. kept its obligations. 

To make matters worse, the climate regulations encompassing the U.S. target may not even achieve the desired results and would require additional regulations. And that would just be the beginning. The Paris Agreement requires ever-increasing targets as time goes on, which would further increase the cost of compliance. These efforts would return us to the same costly and ineffective policies that the current administration is unwinding.

Congress should instead advance pragmatic policies that will actually drive innovation in energy and environmental protection.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

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