Wto one, this was a carbon neutral herbal Nothingburger.
The 26th annual United Nations conference on climate change – that’s COP26, a âconference of the partiesâ in the parlance of the United Nations – has put on a good stage. It took many hours on many private jets – Barack Obama, you were cleared for take off – but it didn’t offer much in terms of meaningful new climate policy.
And that is perhaps the best result we can hope for.
If the real stakes were low, the drama was high. As government leaders and climate activists exchanged piety, Xi Jinping made a gesture of power, refusing to attend the conference at all – let Joe Biden do the hard work of pretending to care about the Maldives. Beijing then intervened at the last minute to steal the show – and the headlines – with a surprise bilateral deal with the United States.
This US-China deal is typical of getting a UN climate deal done: it’s a plan to have a plan – several of them, in fact. In this case, China is sticking to its existing short-term plan, which means it will continue to increase rather than cut its greenhouse gas emissions until at least 2030, while promising to further reduce its emissions over the coming decades. He signed a vague pledge to “accelerate actions in the critical decade of the 2020s” and to set up a new US-China working group on climate policy.
In terms of firm commitments for meaningful action, there isn’t much. China, currently responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, has rejected significant restrictions on its methane production, once again promising to come up with a plan. . . ultimately. But fear not: the statement said the two countries “reiterate their firm commitment to work together.” They once again devoted themselves to “ambitious” action – “ambition” being the favorite word among the crowd of UN climate activists.
Translation: “We will always have Paris.” And Doha, and Lima, and Katowice, and next year in Sharm el-Sheikh.
John Kerry, the US climate envoy, brought welcome comedic relief, walking around the conference with his retinue and being eclipsed and ignored at every turn, not just by the president but by the former president and even by the impassive young representative of New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was greeted like a Beatle while Kerry generated more of a Perry Como-type buzz.
India played the spoiler role, pulling a last-second switcheroo on coal-related language: India has the world’s second-largest coal reserves (behind the United States), but China is the largest producer and consumer world of coal and holds the third largest reserves. India’s decision to torpedo the tongue of coal has enjoyed quiet backing from Beijing and Washington – another example of the Biden administration speaking from both sides of the mouth on climate and energy policy.
One Indian negotiator insisted that India has a ârightâ to its broadcasts for reasons of social justice: 21. And this is where one of the problems with these negotiations lies.
We are told (over and over) that it is about Science, and that our political goals can in fact be inferred from scientific evidence. But as a matter of ScienceIt doesn’t matter for the climate whether a ton of coal is burned in Uttar Pradesh or Illinois – and so questions of science become questions of social justice when facts and figures are inconvenient. The United Nations presents itself as a forum for internationalism, but it’s actually a theater of competing nationalisms, from Joe Biden’s tired and whitewashed crony capitalism to Narendra Modi’s slightly fresher version of the same.
This is a political problem for climate activists because it is the developing world, not the rich countries, that will be responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions in the years to come. Upon entering Glasgow, activists insisted that this convention represented the last chance for the human race to do something to prevent catastrophic climate chaos. But once the parties got together they didn’t act like they really believed in such a thing. Instead, what took place was the usual festival of worldwide rent-seeking, benefit-hunting, and scamming that marks almost everything the United Nations does or touches.
The UN has a credibility problem. His most famous program for the control of fossil fuels was a multibillion-dollar corruption program involving Iraqi oil and Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1990s. While our progressive friends may hysterically denounce climate “deniers”, the most relevant skepticism about climate change is and always has been Politics skepticism. Perhaps it is time for climate activists – including center-right British and European leaders and the small handful of our own Republicans with a genuine interest in the issue – to consider the possibility that the United Nations is simply not the most effective place to pursue relevant reforms.
What should be made quite clear is that US climate policy needs to be made in Washington, not Glasgow, Paris or elsewhere. It’s fine to go out and speak or listen to one, but the UN process offers very little hope for good climate policy – and it offers glimpses of opportunities to mess around. It is time for this conversation to enter a new, more realistic phase, one centered on quiet and achievable reforms – and one that depends a little less on the moral reliability and good character of the Chinese Communist Party. Concretely, this could include a number of approaches, ranging from encouraging the development of nuclear power at home and abroad (India has nuclear weapons but produces very little nuclear power) to helping countries poor people to develop more modern agricultural practices.
And, of course, we could and should help the rest of the world do what the United States has been doing over the past decade: converting relatively dirty coal-fired power plants into relatively clean natural gas production. But that would mean building more natural gas infrastructure, including export depots on the west coast – something the environmental lobby has worked tirelessly to block, just as it has worked tirelessly to block nuclear power. . Oddly enough, it’s the environmentalists who are the biggest obstacle to implementing cleaner energy in much of the world.
It is not clear that the Biden administration is ready to thread this particular needle. On the one hand, forcing a radical green agenda on the United States while China and India go about their happy business would mean high costs to Americans with no real benefit; on the other hand, forgoing any meaningful action until there is a unified global agenda would deprive us of potential cumulative benefits, including non-climate benefits that would flow from additional nuclear and gas infrastructure, global best agricultural practices, etc. Finding an intelligence balance there would require something more than the shallow and token politics in which the Biden administration specializes.
And so we come to the question of practical steps. We already know some of the things we should do to adapt to expected climate changes, as we are already adapting to climate differences: There is a reason why buildings in Miami are designed and built differently than those in Phoenix. No one wants to see more extreme weather, droughts or flooding, but these are issues that can be mitigated and addressed. It is much more reasonable to expect that we will be able to adapt intelligently to climate change than to see conventioneers from Glasgow develop and implement an effective and cost-effective program to control global emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases – science has its say in this matter, but so does history and experience.
And if climate models are proven to be correct, global warming will impose real costs on the world – costs that are best borne by the abundant resources and innovation that flow from economic growth and investments here and now.
A nuclear power plant is worth a hundred years of talk about climate âambitionâ.
In Glasgow, angry activists waving placards in the street bitterly complained that what was happening at COP26 under UN auspices was fundamentally not serious. On this point at least, we are inclined to agree with them.