Climate Ambitions Worse than Climate Change

The December 12 Climate Ambition Summit 2020, it did not receive much attention, nor did it deserve to. The UN holds a major climate conference at the end of every year under the auspices of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. (UNFCCC). Several smaller conferences are held during the year leading up to the final Conference of the Parties (COP). This year would have seen COP26, but it was postponed until November 2021 because of COVID-19. Thus, the Climate Ambition Summit was a virtual stand-in event which denied politicians, bureaucrats, and activists their chance to party for a week in some five-star venue while demanding that the common people of the world cut back their living standards to “save the planet.” 

Last Year’s COP25 was deemed a failure and this year followed suit. At this year’s summit, Secretary-General António Guterres reached new heights of extremism in the face of a world which for very practical reasons has not paid much attention to the UN. "Paris promised to limit temperature rise to as close to 1.5 degrees as possible. But the commitments made in Paris were far from enough to get there. And even those commitments are not being met… Carbon dioxide levels are at record highs. Today, we are 1.2 degrees hotter than before the industrial revolution. If we don't change course, we may be headed for a catastrophic temperature rise of more than 3 degrees this century… I call on all leaders worldwide to declare a State of Climate Emergency in their countries until carbon neutrality is reached.” He also denounced governments which had given pandemic relief to “polluters.”

The summit was supposed to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the Paris Accord from which President Donald Trump withdrew and to which Joe Biden has pledged to return. Biden gave “climate czar” John Kerry credit for helping draft the Paris agreement.

The UN has also been pushing backwards in time the start of what it sees as the most dangerous event. The Industrial Revolution is being cited as the reference point. This is to support the claim that climate change is the result of human activity, even though there have been climate cycles (hot and cold) throughout history. The miraculous rise of living standards and life expectancy due to technological advances since the 18th century are now deemed a bad thing. At the core of the Green movement is the belief that the progress of humankind is the problem, and that progress must be reversed.

Consider the book Deep Green Resistance, which forecast the concept of “resistance” used against the Trump administration. It was a collection of essays that tried to make “the case that technology won’t fix the environmental problems we face, and consumption, no matter how green is only accelerating the earth’s decline.” The solution is “to dismantle the industrial economy.” Lierre Keith argues in one essay not just to end the use of fossil fuel, but “industrial” fishing and agriculture. This would lead to famine, but she thinks we could adjust to that in fifty or a hundred years “if we were to voluntarily reduce our numbers.” There would be nothing voluntary about the misery of an imposed Dark Age.

Given that political leaders in democratic countries are usually thrown out of office if even a mild recession takes place, the kind of permanent depression on an unprecedented retrograde scale like the Greens advocate does not have any appeal. This is why the UN Emissions Gap Report 2020 found, “despite a brief dip in carbon dioxide emissions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world is still heading for a temperature rise in excess of 3°C this century -- far beyond the Paris Agreement goals of limiting global warming to well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C.” It has been the hope of the Greens that the enforced collapse of economies around the world would accustom people to diminished, isolated lives which could be extended into the future in the name of ecological sustainability. In that regard it should be noted that Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic Governor of Michigan whose draconian (and unconstitutional) lockdowns have wrecked countless lives as well as the economy, spoke to the UN Climate summit. She used the false claim that natural disasters “are just a taste of what’s to come” from climate change. She is an advocate of cures that are worse than the disease, which turn out not even to be cures.

No one from the Trump administration spoke at the UN Summit. Some countries skeptical of the crisis (Australia and Brazil) still wanted to issue statements, but they were denied access to the virtual event. A surprise speaker was Chinese President Xi Jinping who, as usual, used the climate issue as a strategic ploy to shift the world balance of power by crippling the West as China continues to surge ahead. He paid lip service to the Paris agreement, but then reverted to the rhetoric of the defunct Kyoto Protocol by citing “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” which was dropped in 2009. This principle, which had governed the UNFCCC from the start, let developing countries ignore UN goals and mandates as they pursued their “right to develop.” Only the developed West had to cut back because it had advanced too far. It was Barack Obama who did away with this distinction at COP15 in Copenhagen. Now, no country is under any mandate; all follow Nationally Determined Contributions which properly put their own countries first. Beijing’s policies give top priority to economic growth, with emissions not peaking until 2030 and carbon neutrality not occurring until 2060 -- so distant as to be meaningless.

China has adopted an interesting metric for making these projections; emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). It has pledged to reduce this, which makes sense since productivity is the goal of every economy. It also means emissions can increase, but if GDP growth is faster, the ratio will fall. China’s metric allows it to claim the kind of progress it values -- and the kind we should value as well.

A Biden administration will be under intense pressure to recover from the pandemic recession. Biden and Kerry should remember that when Obama tried to meet UN targets during the last years of his tenure, he slowed recovery from the financial recession. This led to the election of President Trump who achieved record job creation and real income growth until the pandemic hit. Americans want a return to that kind of normal which is anathema to the Greens. If Biden doesn’t keep Kerry on a short leash, they won’t be able to steal enough votes to win the next election.

William R. Hawkins is a former economics professor who served as a Republican staff member on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. He has written widely on international economics and national security issues for both professional and popular publications.

Image: Climate Ambition Summit