This December’s annual UN Conference of the Parties in Paris — known as COP 21 — takes place in the context of 18-plus years of global temperature stability. Many scathing remarks have been made about previous meetings, especially the 2009 Copenhagen gathering which Kevin Rudd attended with a 114-strong delegation, expecting to forge an agreement that would deliver the greenhouse gas abatement commitments he and others had promoted.
Since then, five subsequent annual meetings also have failed to bring agreements on binding commitments. This has been much to the relief of those who consider that human-induced climate change is non-existent or trivial and that to counter it would cripple national economies and, indeed, the world economy.
The ghost of the “pause” in temperature increases is, however, hardly haunting the upcoming meeting. The impetus for action this year is particularly strong. President Obama has made an agreement into a “signature” policy that will define the success of his Presidency, saying, “My definition of leadership would be leading on climate change, an international accord that potentially we’ll get in Paris.”. The President also has argued that climate change has contributed to the rise of ISIS and Boko Haram, and his national security adviser, Susan Rice, swears that the world faces disaster unless we stop climate change .
Others have been similarly vocal. The Pope has enlisted as a supporter with the issuance of the encyclical Laudato si’. There have been other strong statements by key bodies. The General Secretary of the International Trade Union Federation, Australia’s very own Sharan Burrows, has echoed the call for a “Zero carbon, zero poverty world” and 14 international firms, including Shell, BP, Rio Tinto and BHP, have issued a statement supporting “progressively de-carbonizing the global economy”.
In the lead-up to Paris, countries have made Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to reducing global emissions. The EU has pledged to cut its emissions 40% by 2030, while the US, Japan, Australia, Canada and New Zealand have all pledged reductions of between 26% and 30%. However China (now the largest source of emissions) and India (third-largest source) have offered no more than lofty statements while pledging little beyond reductions in their economies’ emission intensity. In other words, business as usual. China and India’s emission INDCs to 2030 are 150% and 90% respectively.
The IPCC Fifth Assessment said that human emissions should not exceed 2,900 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent if global temperature increases are to be held to 2°C. The emissions over the past century or so mean that there is a maximum of less than 1,000 gigatonnes remaining. Oren Cass points out that even with the most enthusiastic assumptions about decarbonisation this would be impossible. If the developed world ceased all emissions today, developing nations would still need to halve their current emissions to remain within the IPCC global budget.
Averting a speculative global climate-induced disaster aside, if the developing countries do not suppress their national emissions the intent of global climate-control policy largely collapses. That is because the higher costs the developed world imposes on its economies through taxes and regulations will bring major industries to migrate to lower-cost developing countries.
Past experience of elevated expectations that come crashing down are reasonable guides to the outcome in Paris. Cass takes this view in arguing that there are only three ways an agreement can be reached: collective action, compensation or coercion. There is no significant body arguing for coercion – and attempts to bring this about, through for example trade restraints, would surely lead to an autarkical world or worse. Collective action as a possibility he dismisses on the evidence of the China, India and others’ stated intents.
Compensation would be exorbitant, and developing countries, plus China, have already rejected the draft agreement as not reflecting their finance needs. According to India’s environment minister, developed nations are “historically responsible” for global warming and must do “justice” to the developing countries by delivering on the $100 billion a year Green Climate Fund (GCF) promised by them to deal with climate change.
Cass concludes, “Whatever ineffectual ‘deal’ may emerge from the Paris talks will only underscore what has been true all along: no negotiated agreement will significantly reduce global emissions of CO2.”
The likely failure to reach a binding agreement to suppress greenhouse gas emissions offers scant comfort to those hoping the “great climate con” will then unravel. There is an impetus created since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. This has received a further prod with the election of Canada’s Trudeau government. The new Prime Minister’s principal adviser is a former head of World Wildlife Fund Canada and Trudeau shares his carbon dioxide abatement goals. This impetus is fuelled by a general community concern, assiduously promoted by a warmist media, that we must be harming the earth. It is further stoked by international bureaucracies, government funding and the interests of those obtaining benefits from subsidised renewables. The climate change consulting market alone is estimated to be worth $1.9 billion a year.
While there is a countervailing interest on the part of coal mining businesses, it is doubtful that pro-coal funding support would amount to one per cent of that involved in promoting decarbonisation. Many beneficiaries from coal are also highly involved in renewables. In Australia, for instance, this roster includes major coal-based generating businesses such as AGL, Origin and Engie (formerly known as GDF Suez), which is helping to finance the Paris Conference. All three have prioritised their renewable portfolios, and AGL and Origin have both announced that they will eventually phase out and not replace their coal-fired generation facilities.
The weight of this propagation in building upon and channelling community beliefs is considerable. Hence, although many international politicians agree with former PM Tony Abbott that anthropogenic climate change is mythical, like him they have not been prepared to utter this heresy on the record. John Howard expressed the dilemma sceptical politicians face when he said in 2013
In 2006 my government hit a ‘perfect storm’ on the issue. Drought had lingered for several years in many parts of eastern Australia, leading to severe restrictions on the daily use of water; not for the first or last time the bushfire season started early; the report by Sir Nicholas Stern hit the shelves, with the author himself visiting Australia, and lastly the former US vice president Al Gore released his movie An Inconvenient Truth. To put it bluntly ‘doing something’ about global warming gathered strong political momentum in Australia.
Even though the international agreements are non-binding and hardly make a dent in the global emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, almost every country has emission abatement programs that involve costs to their economies. Energy prices have been forced up by restraints and taxes on emissions. In Australia’s case, productive land also has been sequestered from agricultural use.
Perhaps the most telling measure is output of wind and solar facilities. These now account for 3.8% of the world’s electricity supply, an increase from the 0.3% of 15 years ago. Nowhere in the world are such sources commercial. Globally, the cost of wind power is twice that of fossil fuel-derived electricity – even more so, as in Australia, where coal is cheap to mine.
In the EU wind and solar comprise 11% of electricity sources. In the US, the figure is 6%, and in Australia, 4%. As shown in the table below Japan and Canada have rather lower penetrations of these high-cost renewables, while Singapore, Korea and Taiwan all have less than one per cent of their energy supplied through wind and solar.
Wind and solar facilities are negligible in Russia and the Middle East but, somewhat remarkably, are significant in China and India, where they comprise over 3% of supplies.
Ahead of the Paris UN Conference in December, most developed countries have pledged to cut emissions from the baseline (normally 2005) by over 26% as of 2030 as part of their “contributions” to emission abatement. This level of reduction will have no meaningful effect on the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and, therefore, on future temperatures (allowing, of course, that CO2 is pushing the mercury higher, as warmists tirelessly assert, despite there being no observable temperature increase over what is now almost 19 years of flat-line satellite readings)
Abatement measures have adverse economic consequences by denying lowest cost use of resources. These outcomes are exacerbated by a loss of competitiveness to countries that do not take such actions. Developing countries have stated that their intent is to vary their emissions little from their established trajectories.
Even though there are no obvious penalties for failing to act in accordance with the international consensus, and bearing in mind the unavoidable costs, almost every nation makes efforts in this direction. This is especially true of the “established” nations which see themselves in leadership roles, particularly the US and EU but is also true of others.
Developing nations are conscious that they are unable to simultaneously abate their emissions while lifting living standards to those of the developed world. They are also suggesting that they are due particular leeway since they have not had the same per capita level of emissions as developed nations over the past century. Accordingly, they refuse to make more than token emission reductions, which makes it impossible to achieve the ultimate goal of stabilising global emissions at the 2,900 gigatonnes said to be necessary to ensure global temperature increases do not exceed 2°C. Nonetheless, even developing countries, notably China and India are making sacrifices by installing significant amounts of wind and solar powered electricity at some cost to their economies.
 Working Group 1, Summary for Policymakers, http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/ wg1/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf.
 Oren Cass LEADING NOWHERE, ENERGY POLICY AND THE ENVIRONMENT, M A N H A T T A N I N S T I T U T E, October 2015