The White House, in effect, hosted the highest-powered Zoom call ever Thursday with a virtual summit on climate.
Everyone who is somebody participated, from Vladimir Putin (otherwise plotting a potential invasion of Ukraine) and Xi Jinping (taking time out from grinding Hong Kong to dust) to Pope Francis and Bill Gates.
The story line was big, ambitious goals for reduced emissions and a renewal of U.S. “credibility” after President Donald Trump supposedly trashed it by pulling out of the Paris climate accord.
Biden announced a commitment to cut U.S. emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030. This was greeted by huzzahs from elite opinion-makers, but the commitment, and the entire effort, is misbegotten.
A key theory driving it is that if the U.S. cuts its emissions, everyone else around the world will as well, preserving Earth as we know it.
But even well-intentioned countries are liable to miss, or to manipulate, their climate targets, whatever they say. And not all countries are well-intentioned.
Consider China, which the Biden administration has been desperate to get on board. Amazingly enough, climate envoy John Kerry was the first Biden official to visit China, signaling that climate change is more important to the administration than China’s threatening behavior toward Taiwan, its aggression in the South China Sea, its suppression of the Uyghurs, its predatory trade practices or its theft of intellectual property.
Kerry got verbiage from the Chinese about tackling climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”
This is a great coup, just not how Kerry imagines. Every time we pump up China as a partner on the climate, we feed the ridiculous pretense, which President Xi is desperate to create, that China is a good global citizen overwhelmingly concerned with the planet’s welfare.
It’s highly doubtful China is going to reach peak emissions in 2030, or zero by 2060, its latest promise. Beijing is bringing a massive amount of coal-fired power plants online. Regardless, who’s going to hold China accountable for its climate pledges, and how, precisely?
If the Chinese fall short of their pledge in 2030, by which time we may have fought and lost a hot war with China over Taiwan, what are we going to do to punish or correct them? If we can’t get them to stop committing genocide in Xinjiang province today, are we really going to bring them to heel over excess emissions nearly a decade from now?
That aside, the U.S. pledge itself is not very credible. Would it really survive the advent of a Republican Congress, possibly as soon as next year? 2030 is two years after the end of what would be Biden’s second term. In political terms, it is an eon from now.
Besides, trying to meet the goal will be harmful to the economy. It is inarguable that alternative sources of energy are more expensive than fossil fuels and drive up costs. Both Germany and California, which have made major commitments to wind and solar, have amply demonstrated this fact. Subsidies only mask the additional expense, and new “green energy jobs” can’t compensate for the adverse economy-wide employment effects of higher energy costs.
The upside is vanishingly small. As Benjamin Zycher of the American Enterprise Institute notes, the Paris Agreement would have reduced the global temperature 0.17 degree Celsius by 2100, based on calculations using the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate model.
To do more than nibble around the edges of climate change would require restrictions on economic activity too onerous to contemplate. The point was illustrated by the pandemic, which, by grinding the economy to a near-halt around the advanced world, drove unprecedented reductions in carbon emissions. Now that things are returning to normal, carbon emissions are recovering smartly.
This is why, at the end of the day, the virtual climate summit, despite the media adulation and self-congratulation, achieved little besides making energy more costly.
© 2021 by King Features Syndicate