In Part 1 of this series, I explained that the conventional narrative on President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement was absurd on several levels. (The latest example is Stephen Hawking telling us that Trump will turn Earth into Venus.) In the first article, I focused on the slippery elements of the pro-Paris argument—such as claiming that the Agreement has no teeth, but at the same time warning that pulling out would doom humanity.
In this present article, Part 2, I will focus on the Agreement’s central climate goal: limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. As we will see, the popular discussion of this target vis-à-vis the Paris Agreement is downright Orwellian.
The 2°C Target
According to the text of the Agreement, which was adopted in December 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), its overarching purpose is, “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels…” To this end, each participating country submitted an Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC), which is a non-binding pledge on how that country would do its part to achieve the global goal.
But as we will see, several countries’ “limits” are mere formalities. Beyond that, even if the countries all followed their (non-binding) pledges, it would not be enough to satisfy the 2°C target. Finally, I will remind readers of something I’ve pointed out numerous times here at IER’s blog: Believe it or not, the UN’s own science report shows that the 2°C target will probably impose more economic costs than it will spare in climate change damages, and one of the leading experts on the subject admits that the 2°C target is “not really very scientific.”
First, recall that each country’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) is formally non-binding. That means the signatories can’t punish a country for failing to meet its self-imposed goal. In this sense, it is odd for Trump’s critics to accuse him of threatening the future of the planet by pulling out of the Agreement, since it formally has no power to “save” the planet in the first place.
Furthermore, several of the countries have fairly empty promises. As the Manhattan Institute’s Oren Cass explained:
China committed to begin reducing emissions by 2030, roughly when its economic development would have caused this to happen regardless. India made no emissions commitment, pledging only to make progress on efficiency—at half the rate it had progressed in recent years. Pakistan outdid the rest, submitting a single page that offered to “reduce its emissions after reaching peak levels to the extent possible.” This is a definition of the word “peak,” not a commitment.
So as I wrote in Part 1, Trump was just being transparent—a quality that his opponents normally say they cherish—when he pulled out of the Agreement. It is a farce, with major emitters like China and India not promising to do anything that would severely constrain the path of their economic development.
The World Was Not on a Path to Hitting the 2°C Target
Indeed, for those climate alarmists who really take the 2°C target seriously, things looked grim well before Trump pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement. For example, in late April Vox’s climate policy expert wrote a post entitled, “No country on Earth is taking the 2 degree climate target seriously.”
Below is a screenshot (taken on July 3, 2017) from the website ClimateActionTracker.org. This is a decidedly pro-Paris Agreement website, the purpose of which is to keep tabs on governments around the world and their action to mitigate climate change.
As the diagram indicates, even if all governments satisfied the climate policy pledges they’ve made, the globe would still warm by an estimated 2.8°C (with an uncertainty band of 3.5°C on the high end and 2.3°C on the low end).
What’s worse, if we look at the current policies of the world’s governments, then this website estimates warming of 3.6°C, with an upper bound of 4.9°C and a lower bound of 2.6°C.
So to reiterate, the notion that the world was doing just fine, until Donald Trump came along and ruined the fight against climate change, is simply not true. Whether we look at what the other governments have promised or we look at what they’ve actually put into place, the world was not anywhere close to respecting the 2°C target.
The 2°C Target Is Not Scientific
Finally, the last nail in the coffin for the conventional outrage at Trump’s decision: The 2°C target itself is not justified by the peer-reviewed literature on the costs and benefits of various climate change policies.
I won’t rehash the argument here, but in a previous IER post I used the latest installment of the UN’s own climate change “consensus” document, to show that the likely economic compliance costs of a 2°C target would probably be higher than the avoided climate change damages.
In other words, using the very data and projections endorsed by the UN’s climate policy project, I can make a decent case that the 2°C target would be a cure worse than the disease. Using the UN’s own numbers, the 2°C target would probably damage humanity more through lower economic growth, than it would benefit humanity by reduced global warming.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. As I explained in this column, William Nordhaus, one of the world’s leading experts on climate change economics—and someone who is a huge supporter of a carbon tax—has said that “The scientific rationale for the 2°C target is not really very scientific.”
Nordhaus himself has estimated that if governments around the world implemented an optimal policy, they would shoot to limit warming to about 2.3°C. However, if we take into account realistic limitations on the precision and enforcement of the policy, Nordhaus thinks a more reasonable ceiling is closer to 4°C of warming.
And so we see the Orwellian nature of the conventional discussion of President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. The central plank of the Agreement—namely, limiting cumulative global warming to 2°C—was going to be grossly violated even before Trump’s decision. This is true whether we look at the (non-binding) pledges the participating governments made, or whether we look at their actual policies in place thus far.
Yet what’s even more dumbfounding is that the 2°C target itself is “not really very scientific,” as one of the world’s experts himself admits. Even the UN’s own publication summarizing the latest climate policy research can be used to show that the 2°C is a cure worse than the disease.
The American public needs to understand that much of what they’ve heard concerning climate change policy is nonsensical and indeed internally contradictory. President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement doesn’t threaten humanity, even according to the expert analyses published by the people who are criticizing him so harshly.