The Paris COP 21 at the end of last year may have set an all-time record for conference attendance of officials, NGOs and lobbyists—40,000 plus at least 5000 from the media. Virtually every world leader made an appearance, many changing their schedules at short notice to attend the opening rather than the close. There may have been a thousand booths of different organisations and countries, and in the course of the deliberations there would have been over 800 formal meetings and presentations.
During these meetings statesmen and NGOs repeated the same messages they had delivered dozens, sometimes hundreds of times. We heard how the ice was melting, the rivers were drying and sea levels were rising. We heard how tropical diseases were going to engulf us unless we took action and how, in view of the rapid expansion of renewable technology, that action was going to be much cheaper. Moreover if we used less energy we would be better off because we would spend less money. National spokesmen boasted of the sacrifices they were making and how much they were doing to advance the clean/low energy cause at home and abroad, while NGOs urged faster and further action.
The conference featured a constant series of street theatres. 350Org staged a major concert featuring, among others, Patti Smith, Flea (of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers), and Thom Yorke (of Radiohead). When musicians are lecturing us on policy we know the end of rational government is near.
The only note of dissent was the counter-conference hosted by the Heartland Institute, which featured genuine scientists, including the recently deceased great Australian Bob Carter, who demonstrated that:
- the earth was not warming to a level that might cause unease;
- there was no increase in inclement weather events;
- sea levels were not rising;
- the emission-restraining actions by the developed world would be meaningless since the developing world, especially China and India, would take no such measures and their emissions already exceeded those of the developed world.
The protesters outside and inside the Heartland event far exceeded the invited attendees. Among them, with his own camera/sound crew, was the University of Queensland’s John Cook, who originated the story that 97 per cent of scientists agree about human-induced global warming. Actually, only 1.6 per cent of the thousands of papers Cook and his activist team studied were said to have explicitly endorsed the warmist view and even some of these scientists have rejected the researchers’ classification of their papers.
Politics and diplomacy were the dominant issues in Paris. Few were concerned about the science or economics of climate change. Even the source material in the IPCC Fifth Assessment issued in 2014, once the 6000 pages of jargon and intimidating diagrams had been navigated, asserts that with a three-degree warming total loss of global GDP compared with business-as-usual is just 2 to 3 per cent over the course of a century. That’s just half a year’s growth even without any mitigatory action, such as planting different crops. Meanwhile the apparently trivial costs of preventing the emissions rest upon massive new breakthroughs in renewable energy technology and a Philosopher’s Stone discovery of how to capture and store the carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
In view of the IPCC’s sober assessment of losses from climate change, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) could hardly endorse the double-digit losses in global GDP claimed by hack studies like those of Stern and Garnaut. It did however promote alarmist studies, such as one that topically claimed climate change was killing more people than terrorism.
In January, the UN cavalcade moved on to Abu Dhabi where UN chief Ban Ki-moon said: “Sustainable energy is the thread that connects economic growth, social equity, and our efforts to combat climate change.” Leaders of the world’s mendicant states queued up to divert to themselves funds from this major oil producer and owner of Manchester City.
Participants barely had time to cash in their frequent-flyer points before jetting on to the World Economic Forum in Davos. There, film stars like Leonardo DiCaprio were in full attack mode. According to DiCaprio:
We simply cannot afford to allow the corporate greed of the coal, oil and gas industries to determine the future of humanity. Those entities with a financial interest in preserving this destructive system have denied, and even covered up the evidence of our changing climate …
Although most business delegates attending Davos would count themselves as “concerned”, they appear to have downgraded climate change to a relatively low point on their fearmometer scale. The Paris agreement was fundamentally created by President Obama, who said:
Climate change could define the contours of this century more than any other [challenge]. I came here personally to say the United States not only recognises the problem but is committed to do something about it.
As Obama has said, his administration claims his policies will “push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet”. He cheerily argued that green energy now employs more people than the coal industry—a sad indictment of politicians’ understanding about the need to produce things cheaply—especially things like renewable energy, which costs two to three times as much as conventional energy.
Obama bookended December’s agreement in his State of the Union message where he declared, in Shakespearean language, “if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it”. He declared that everyone including the US military, the great corporations and almost the entire scientific community were on board.
Of course, this is hardly the case. Obama himself recognised this in avoiding having the agreement described as a treaty, which would never pass Congress, and in delaying the implementation of the $100 billion a year program until 2025 so as not to jeopardise the presidential hopes of Mrs Clinton.
But Obama led a process which seems likely to have enduring effects. Although some voices on the sceptic side expressed relief that the outcome was not a treaty, it involves powerful political imperatives. The President claims persuasively that the new climate agreement would bind the next president politically even if it had no legal force and even if the next president were a Republican who had campaigned against it. The Obama strategy was to bring this about by a mixture of moral suasion and a legacy of impediments to fossil-fuel usage via regulatory rules controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency.
With the UNFCCC, there is a permanent pressure that not only oversees national adherence to their pledges but will up the ante—as it did in the “aspirational” shift to a 1.5°C maximum global temperature increase. The UNFCCC is supported in this by an array of international bodies pumping out studies and analyses of how emission reductions will assist mankind. In this respect the International Energy Agency has played a leading role, with its Executive Director claiming ‘a “happy divorce” between economic growth and rising emissions of greenhouse gases and the IMF propagandising that “energy subsidies are projected at US$5.3 trillion in 2015, or 6.5 per cent of global GDP”, skating over the fact that these subsidies are mainly to Third World countries or, like Australia’s diesel fuel rebate, conventional tax exemptions to production inputs.
In the lead-up, all nations volunteered “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” (INDCs), which are the agreement’s core. Under these, governments of developed countries committed to reduce their emissions by more than 26 per cent from 2013 levels.
The spectre of China and India torpedoing any agreement, as they had at the 2008 Copenhagen Conference, led the Obama administration to grant the rapidly developing nations leave to do as they please with emissions as long as they engaged in token measures and undertook to support the agreement. This they readily acceded to, especially since the developed world was pledging to cripple its own industries’ competitiveness by raising energy input costs. And the developed world was sugar-coating this with the $100 billion a year climate aid plan. Not all of this would be simple re-badging of existing commitments, which ensured support from developing countries unable to cast off statist torpor and embark on the self-sustaining income growth seen in south and east Asia.
All this was carefully assembled before Paris so that the meeting itself could simply clarify outstanding points. It was left to the delegates to solemnise the accord and ensure the language did not offend diplomatic protocols. In the process, the Secretariat totted up all the INDCs and conjured up an outcome that the warming would still at some future point be 2.7°C. This is based on some relationship between temperature and the climate models. That relationship was not described. Meanwhile, climate models consistently over-forecast future temperatures.
As Richard Lindzen has pointed out, the maximum increase in temperatures, from a doubling of greenhouse gas concentrations, absent any amplification feedbacks (the existence of which is unproven), is 1.1°C. On that basis, the goal to limit temperature increases to 2°C and its “aspirational” replacement of 1.5°C are easily achievable! Few of the Paris delegates would, however, be impressed by the assertion of someone who is perhaps the world’s foremost atmospheric physicist.
James Hansen, who is often regarded as the father of the greenhouse scare, dismissed the agreement. He recognised that without a global carbon tax, heavy industries will simply migrate to China, India and the oil-rich nations that will not impose price-boosting regulatory measures on energy.
The exemptions undermine the objectives. India’s pledged emissions levels would more than double by 2030 and China’s would increase by 50 per cent—leading to an increase in global emissions by 2030 of some 15 per cent. But such outcomes do not appear to be influential in determining policy. In the developed world there is an apparent view that technology will come to the rescue. This is reinforced by statesmen’s wish to make an economic impression and above all to deflect electoral negatives associated with contesting positions taken by green activists. This point regarding green activists was taken up by Bergkamp and Stone, who argued:
under the guise of direct democracy in a system of multi-level, non-hierarchical governance, it grants not only credibility but also de facto authority to climate activists, thus posing a threat to constitutional government and representative democracy.
For Australia, there is ostensibly little difference between the Turnbull approach to climate change and that of Tony Abbott. But while Abbott was a sceptic who sought to reduce the costs of climate policy measures, Turnbull has been a major supporter of carbon emission restraints. His signature policy to date is on innovation, where he is seeking to engineer a new industry approach for Australia, one that rejects the old areas of expertise—minerals and farming—and climbs aboard the new technologies.
Australia signed the previous climate accord, that of Kyoto in 1997, and although it was only ratified by Kevin Rudd in 2007 it conditioned policy. Important in this respect were collaborative measures between the Commonwealth and Queensland and New South Wales that prevented land development by means of land-use planning regulations, which expropriated farmers without compensation. In recent years global warming fears have also justified buying out water rights in the Murray-Darling, seriously reducing the productivity of Australia’s most important agricultural province.
But it is energy policy that has been the prime focus of emission reduction measures. Australian energy policy has been developed in two main directions. The first, dating from the mid-1990s, focused on deregulation and privatisation of the electricity and gas industries. The success of this underscored the success of the economy and, in the early years of this century, the Australian electricity and gas industries based on low-cost coal and gas became among the cheapest and most efficient in the world.
At the same time increased regulation was being introduced, first with a requirement in 2001 for “2 per cent additional electricity” to be derived from otherwise uncompetitive renewable sources. Renewable requirements have been gradually ramped up and are now scheduled to comprise 24 per cent of electricity by 2020, of which about 14 per cent will be subsidised (mainly solar and wind). In addition, there is a Clean Energy Finance Corporation making loans of $2 billion to uncompetitive high-cost suppliers. The upshot is that Australian electricity is now among the most expensive in the world.
The Paris accord will impose pressure, welcomed by those who seek to transform Australia, to take further action on renewable subsidies, regulations on energy use and so on. With an industry profile dependent on cheap energy both as an input and for export, Australia is vastly different from other economies and more vulnerable to the adverse policy effects of tax and regulatory slugs on fossil fuels.
Alan Moran runs the website Regulation Economics (www.regulationeconomics.com).