The Real World Supports Trump on Climate Policy

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS June 5, 2017

A great deal of hysteria has been displayed on both sides of the Atlantic after President Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations in 2015. But the "sky is falling" chant should be ignored. A much louder and far more authoritative chorus has chimed in: the Dow Jones Industrial average hit a record on June 1, surging upward after the President delivered the news. And it hit another high the following day. Everyone whose business it is to understand economics knows that lifting the burden of the UN climate campaign off the United States will be good for energy generation, industrial production, job creation and all the national prosperity that will follow.

One of the most inaccurate as well as hostile statements came from former Secretary of State John Kerry who helped negotiate the Paris deal: "The president who promised 'America First' has taken a self-destructive step that puts our nation last. This is an unprecedented forfeiture of American leadership which will cost us influence, cost us jobs, and invite other countries to walk away from solving humanity's most existential crisis." Let's take each sentence in turn. The President's decision clearly put America first by giving priority to national economic growth rather than retarding it by imposing pointless Green regulations that would have crippled it. The impact would be dire both domestically and in competition with other countries, like China, who had made it clear than accord or no; they would not limit their expansion of production and energy use.

President Trump's action was not "unprecedented" since President George W. Bush refused to implement the Kyoto Protocol which was adopted in 1997 but did not take effect until 2005, with its first commitment period not starting until 2008. The protocol was a climate treaty, but it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate. A large bi-partisan majority opposed it because it was so uneven in its international obligations.

All climate negotiations at the UN since 1992 have been conducted under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which divides the world into the developed countries (37 qualify, mainly the U.S., EU, and Japan) and the developing countries (134 or so). The developed countries have the responsibility to reduce emissions because they are blamed for having first put greenhouse gases (GHG) into the atmosphere. The rest of the world has no obligation to curb their emissions as they are merely trying to catch up with the developed world in living standards. This is why China can proclaim it will remain in the Paris Accords. It costs Beijing nothing to do so as they consider themselves a developing country with no mandates to do anything. Indeed, they have repeatedly proclaimed that their emissions will continue to grow until 2030 when they will supposedly peak. China will then consider what to do going forward. Beijing is unhappy with the U.S. withdrawal not because of the climate issue, but because they want to see American slowed down while they speed up to alter the balance of power.

The European establishment is just jealous of America, where electricity costs are half that of the old continent, as are unemployment rates. And economic growth is up across the fruited plain----and likely to increase even more during the Trump era. The abandonment of the EU's liberal norms by Washington only draws attention to their failures across a range of issues, not just climate.

President Barack Obama might have been expected to push for ratification of the Kyoto Protocol or at least accept it as an executive agreement, but he did not. As Green as he was, he also could not embrace the unequal treatment of the U.S. in the UN framework. He won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on the anticipation that he would bring the U.S. into the next UN treaty planned for the end of the year. Instead, he blew up the Copenhagen meeting, which had become the focal point of the global Green movement.

Those on the Right often forget the great service President Obama performed in Copenhagen, putting America first over the demands of most of the rest of the world. In the run up to the conference, Janos Pasztor, Director of the UN Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, called on the United States to show "leadership" by imposing unilateral limitations on itself even before the meeting opened. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared "we cannot afford another period where the United States stands on the sidelines." The mobs of left-wing activists outside the conference demanded ever higher burdens be placed on the Western capitalist countries by an agreement amounting to a UN socialist dictatorship. Yet, no "binding treaty" emerged from the heated halls in Denmark; only an accord that disappointed the activists.

The Obama administration had spent 2009 trying to persuade China to accept mandated targets so as to put everyone on the same track. The BASIC coalition (Brazil, South Africa, India and China, leading the developing countries) insisted on the Kyoto "differentiated" principle exempting them from any targets. The conference collapsed over this fundamental conflict. President Obama negotiated directly with BASIC to change the terms of the UN process. He put it on a one-track basis. No country would have mandates imposed on it! Each country would be free to pursue its own policies in its own interests. It would be the open competitive pro-growth world that BASIC wanted; only with the United States in the game too.

Personally, President Obama had fallen for the sophistry of halting climate change by reducing American emissions. Under the Copenhagen Accord, he only had to report to the UN his voluntary goal: a 17 percent reduction in GHG by 2020 from 2005 levels. As Obama moved further to the Left in his last years in office, he set a new target: an emissions reduction of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels within 10 years, and a 32 percent reduction from existing power plants by 2030. These were, however, only his targets to be carried out by his EPA (and not taking effect until he was safely out of office). His centerpiece, the Clean Power Plan, was blocked by a court suit filed by 24 States who feared the negative impact. The Trump administration came into office determined to end Obama's retrograde program.

It is not clear whether President Trump actually had to withdraw from the Paris Accord to change course in policy since the agreement does not compel any nation to do anything that is not in its sovereign interests; the ironic legacy of Obama's hard-line in 2009.  However, the Paris Accord keeps in play dangerous notions that could cause problems in the future. It still proclaims the "differentiated" principle in Article 4: "Developed country Parties shall continue taking the lead by undertaking economy-wide absolute emission reduction targets. Developing country Parties should continue enhancing their mitigation efforts, and are encouraged to move over time towards economy-wide emission reduction or limitation targets in the light of different national circumstances." So, the West "shall" act, while the rest are only "encouraged" to act. Placing the future of the U.S. economy under any UN text that espouses such an unequal basis is illegitimate. Trump is the third President in a row to think so.

Despite the uproar, the real story is the actions nations have taken (or not) in regard to the supposed climate crisis. The UN has been hosting climate talks since 1992 with no significant results, including the toothless Paris Accords (which Friends of the Earth International called "a sham"). To get 193 countries to sign an agreement (any agreement) requires that it be meaningless; it does nothing so there was no reason not to sign. If there really was a consensus about climate change being an existential threat, the history of the UN would not be limited to a record of lavish parties at five-star venues enjoyed by third-rate bureaucrats who puff themselves up with ludicrous claims of saving the world. From Bali to Paris, the climate conference circuit has been a joyride. The real "climate hoax" has been perpetrated on the taxpayers and donors who have funded these orgies of verbosity.

In Paris, the real topic was not climate control. No one seriously believes that can be done. Instead, it was how to get a piece of the $100 billion slush fund proposed to help "poor" countries adapt to environmental changes. The Green Climate Fund was created in 2010 and had raised $10 billion by the 2015 Paris meeting. The real universal consensus is economic gain. Every UN statement includes a proviso, waiver or exception in favor of growth over constraints. Article 2 of the Paris text limits emissions policy within "the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty" which have priority.

No responsible government can properly sign a pact that does not allow it to control its own destiny and work to improve the standard of living of its people. That's what nationalism is about. President Trump is in the vanguard of this consensus. The best thing the U.S. can do to help its European allies regain their vigor is to do as former Secretary Kerry fears; invite them to walk away from the Chicken Littles at the UN.

This will stimulate, not impede, technological progress. How energy is produced (coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar, wind, etc.) is unimportant as long as it is cheap, reliable and secure. If alternative sources or uses (like electric cars) can compete on those terms, they will advance--- and are already starting to do so.

Foreign officials and domestic partisans are posturing on the climate issue. They all know that if they were to actually adopt policies that would drive their economies into the ditch, they would not survive the popular backlash despite pagan prayers to Gaia. President Trump is just more frank and realistic about it; as the leader of the world's greatest nation should be.

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William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.


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