French Riots May Put Paris Climate Treaty on the Guillotine

As the shock and chaos from weeks of rioting in Paris and the French countryside finally tampers down, it is becoming increasingly clear that the French have all but declared “off with its head” regarding the Paris Climate Accords.

Actions speak louder than words. And the actions of countries around the world show, whatever agreement was reached at the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) that just wrapped up in Poland, it, like the climate agreements before it, won’t be worth the paper it was printed on.

In 1992, 165 countries signed the UNFCC, in which they agreed to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.” To do so, 43 industrialized countries agreed to implement voluntary measures to stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. They missed that target badly.

Despite the 1992 agreement, carbon dioxide emissions were not reduced, but actually increased. Therefore, in 1997, parties to the UNFCC negotiated a new treaty: the Kyoto Protocol. Under this treaty, the same developed countries agreed to legally binding greenhouse gas emission reductions averaging 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.

As the cliché goes, history tends to repeat itself. Like the UNFCC, the Kyoto Protocol set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets that were missed badly — with no penalties forthcoming.

And finally, we come full circle, to Paris in 2015, where 196 countries agreed to cut or stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at levels necessary to prevent the earth from warming as far as possible below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The UN recently estimated this would mean cutting global greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2030 and producing net zero emissions by 2050.

Here’s a news flash, no country is on target to meet those commitments. In fact, emissions are increasing, not dropping. In short, the Paris agreement, for all the lofty words spoken in support of it in Poland, is all but kaput.

Here are just a few facts demonstrating why the Paris agreement is doomed to fail.

  1. Worldwide global carbon dioxide emissions increased by 2.7 percent in 2018 compared with 2017, with China and India, the largest and third-largest emitters of greenhouse gases growing their emissions by 4.7 percent and 6.3 percent respectively since 2017. Even if they were to stabilize their emissions at present levels by 2030, that would still mean higher greenhouse gas levels than the UN says is necessary to stabilize temperatures.
  2. To shore up its geopolitical ties, the Chinese government formed and funded a development bank which is financing hundreds of new coal-fueled electric power plants across Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
  3. Brazil’s new prime minister announced, contrary to expectations, his country would not host the next round of UN climate negotiations in 2019. Furthermore, he has stated his intention of following President Donald Trump’s lead and withdrawing Brazil from the Paris climate agreement and increasing timber production in Brazil’s rainforests.
  4. France, Germany, and Japan — countries leading the fight for tough emission reduction goals in the early round of international climate negotiations — have each increased coal use for electricity and have announced they will miss their mid-term carbon-dioxide emission reduction goals.
  5. At the insistence of Germany and several east European countries, the European Union Commission rejected a call by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee to dramatically increase EU’s 2030 carbon dioxide reduction goals for the transportation sector.
  6. In response to four weeks of violent public protests, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced the government was suspending the scheduled January 2019 increases in fuel taxes, electricity prices, and stricter vehicle emissions controls, which French President Emmanuel Macron claimed were necessary to meet France’s greenhouse gas reduction commitments under the Paris climate agreement.
  7. In 2018, in part as a backlash against Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate policies, climate skeptic Doug Ford was elected premier of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Ford announced he would end energy taxes imposed by Ontario’s previous premier and would join with the premiers of Alberta and Saskatchewan in a legal fight against Trudeau’s federal carbon tax.
  8. In August, Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to resign in a response to a challenge to his leadership over carbon dioxide restrictions, including cuts to domestic coal use and exports he’d planned to impose to meet the country’s Paris climate commitments. The new government announced reducing energy prices and improving reliability, not fighting climate change, would be its primary energy goals. Subsequently, Australia’s deputy prime minister and environment minister said the country would continue using coal for electricity and expand coal mining and exports.
  9. In the U.S. mid-term elections, liberal, green voters in Washington state rejected a tax on carbon dioxide emissions for the second time in two election cycles. Additionally, voters in Alaska and Colorado rejected initiatives that would have limited fossil fuel production in their states and voters in Arizona resoundingly rejected an initiative that would have limited the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity. These defeats came despite tens of millions of dollars being spent in each of these states by supporters of the Paris climate agreement to get these climate initiatives enacted.

Heads of government are finally being forced to acknowledge their constituents are unwilling to pay higher costs for unreliable and unaffordable energy and to make unnecessary sacrifices to their welfare and living standards necessary to meet questionable climate goals. As a result, no matter what comes out of Poland, the reality is the Paris climate agreement is dead, and I (along with millions of others around the world) will not be mourning.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hburnett@heartland.org), is a senior fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center headquartered in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

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