In an editorial headlined "We'll Always Have the Illusions of Paris," the Wall Street Journal editors explain why the Paris climate change confab will have no effect on global temperatures (but will harm the U.S. economy):
The running melodrama of the world climate-change talks reassembled in Paris this week, and word from the worthies is that this time the 196 nations are poised for a momentous breakthrough. Well, not quite. The politicians want a deal so badly that they’ll accept anything that can pass as one, but it won’t amount to much.
Not that you’d know this from the grandiose rhetoric. President Obama called it an historical “turning point,” the “moment we finally determined we would save our planet.” French President François Hollande declared: “Never have the stakes of an international meeting been so high, since what is at stake is the future of the planet, the future of life.” And Pope Francis chimed in that “if I may use a strong word I would say that we are at the edge of suicide.” The theme is Apocalypse Right Now.
President Obama's rhetoric reminds us of this glory days, when he was fresh, and young and not nearly so petulant, and his election was going to cause the levels of the oceans to fall. (I'm assuming this is a good thing, right?) But the climate conference won't have an effect on global temperatures, the editorial notes, because quite a few of the world's top polluters won't jeopardize their economies to please the guilty West:
The problem is that countries like China (the No. 1 emitter) and India (No. 3) won’t undermine their economic growth or stop eradicating desperate poverty to assuage Western neuralgia. World-wide, some 1.3 billion people still live without electricity. So the negotiators simply gave up the pretense of trying to agree to a legally binding agreement.
Instead, countries will volunteer their own random carbon emissions-reduction targets and the actions they may or may not take to meet them, with no global goals. There are no consequences for failing to comply or even common standards for measuring improvement. In echt-United Nations idiom, these pledges are called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions, or INDCs.
The Chinese INDC says carbon emissions will peak sometime before 2030, maybe, unless they don’t. And even this vague aspiration was determined before the Communist Party revealed that China burned 17% more coal per year than it formerly disclosed.
Unlike the leaders of China and India, President Obama did make promises that he will try to keep and which will seriously harm our economy and ability to create jobs and lower our standard of living. Energy-intensive industries will go overseas (and then be criticized for doing what is necessary to survive).
In addition to these harmful effects on the U.S. economy, the U.S. is expected to make cash transfers to other poorer nations. These are sort of guilt payments because we pollute the environment, and you can't really blame poorer nations for becoming more and more aggressive in demanding these INDCs (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions). But the West should not succumb to this kind of emotional blackmail.
Other than giving President Obama carte blanch, as if he needed it, to impose more regulations, the talks were nothing more than hot air:
Mr. Obama isn’t negotiating a treaty, because that would require two-thirds Senate ratification that he will never obtain. Thus he can make any “political agreement” finance promise he likes. But no one outside the West Wing believes Congress will earmark a dollar for windmills in Guangzhou and dikes in the Maldives.
Which is just as well based on what we know about climate change. The world has warmed modestly in the last 35 years, nearly all of that before the last 15. It may or may not warm more in the future, and the effects could be helpful in some places, harmful in others.
The best insurance is not to force-feed windmills on India, or hand more power to government mandarins who will parcel out how much carbon each country can emit. The remedy is faster economic growth so richer societies are better able to adapt to whatever happens. If Bill Gates wants to spend his billions looking for non-carbon energy solutions, great. It’s his money, and innovation is essential to energy progress. The talks in Paris are beside the point.
On the brighter side, the talks gave President Obama and other wolrd leaders all expenses paid vacatuons in Paris.