Energy & Environment

We Will Always Have Paris

Then-UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and then-President Barack Obama shake hands during a joint ratification of the Paris climate change agreement ceremony in Hangzhou, China, September 3, 2016. (Reuters/How Hwee Young/Pool)

That didn’t last long. Just a couple of months ago, the U.S. formally (and finally) completed the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement announced by President Trump in 2017. On Wednesday, one of the first actions of the newly inaugurated President Biden was to begin the process for rejoining the Paris accord (it will take 30 days, as opposed to the years required to conclude America’s earlier departure). As when the U.S. initially signed up to the agreement under President Obama, this will be achieved by executive order, another example of the way that climate campaigners can be reluctant to subject their policy prescriptions to regular democratic review. And so, we will, it seems, always have Paris. This is not a good thing.

In theory, the agreement imposes little by way of legal obligation, other, mainly, than a duty on the part of its signatories to file periodic reports on their climate progress. But this is designed to underpin a “name and shame” regime, which, in democracies, will be used by activists, regulators, politicians, and (quite possibly) lawyers to force through a domestic climate-change agenda. That could be seen in the U.S. under the Obama administration and has continued to be the case here at the state level. By 2019, 25 states had committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in a manner “consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement.” Meanwhile, much of Europe is engaged in trying to set emissions targets to levels of ever greater impracticality or destructiveness (take your pick). As a reminder that rejoining the Paris agreement is not a move that can be seen in isolation, in the first full day of his administration, President Biden withdrew the permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and set the stage for a regulatory onslaught that will rein in the economy, if not the climate.

Meanwhile, the leaders of less respectable polities will play along, politely but insincerely, while extracting every conceivable economic and strategic advantage over a West still naïve enough to believe that its display of economic self-harm will set an example that the rest of the world will wish to emulate rather than avoid.

Thus China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, recently “pledged” that it would aim to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Beijing regime has also claimed that China’s greenhouse-gas emissions will peak “around” 2030. Perhaps it is unkind to mention that by the middle of last year, China was approving new coal plants at the fastest rate since 2015. It might be no less charitable to observe that, if the oil price falls as a result of reductions in Western demand driven by climate-change regulation, China, the world’s largest importer of crude oil, will have no complaints.

Candidate Biden promised that combating climate change would be central to his administration’s policies. The decision to rejoin the Paris agreement is yet another sign that those policies will owe more to ideological orthodoxy than to intelligence.

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