We’ll Always Have Paris

Is the Paris agreement (now back in the news with President Trump addressing the United Nations) enforceable and would it meet its purpose even it were? Imagine if the US Environmental Protection Agency and the states decided to abandon the NPDES permitting process in favor of voluntary discharge goals. Each industry and municipality would decide its own discharge levels with no permitting or reporting process and no legal framework or enforcement mechanisms.

If you believe that we in the US face a climate crisis and action must be taken to reduce carbon emissions and maintain temperature rise below 2C, the Paris Agreement is ineffective. So why support another ineffective agreement on climate?

If you believe that we do not face a climate crisis and that the impact of climate change will be moderate or non-existent, your position is less subtle. The Paris Agreement is, at its best, a superfluous international “feel good” agreement that accomplishes little. At its worst, it puts the US at an economic disadvantage, complicates our national sovereignty, and allows the world to vote itself access to our treasury. Again, this is not something that deserves your support.

Much has been made about the Paris Agreement, largely because so many countries are signatories. Most of the signatories also would be on the receiving side of the $100 billion per year funding, regardless of attainment of their individually nationally determined contributions (INDCs). For example, it allows China, Russia, India, and Brazil to allow its CO2 emissions to continue to grow until 2030, and only then, if they choose, do they have to do anything to stabilize or reduce emissions. Even if the fund falls short of the $100 billion, there will still be a lot of money involved, so it is fair to question whether those countries’ motives are entirely pure. As George Bernard Shaw said, “A government that robs Peter to pay Paul, can always depend on the support of Paul.”

Personally, I reject the correlation that if you are in favor of action on climate change then you must automatically be in favor of the Paris Agreement. I also do not believe that someone who opposes action on climate change must automatically oppose the Paris Agreement. It is also important to distance ourselves from the notion that we have only two options: adopt the Paris Agreement that moves us towards a clean, efficient and prosperous future, or reject the agreement and return to the 1960s era smokestacks and a rapid destruction of our environment. Neither scenario is likely.

The good news: The US INDCs were to cut emissions to 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Estimates believe we are already at the halfway point to meeting this goal by replacing coal and oil with lower emission shale gas from fracking. Speaking of renewable sources, 2016 estimates 30% of US electric generation was from coal, 35% from other fossil fuels, 20% from nuclear and 15% from renewable sources, including nearly a 7% contribution from hydro-electric dams, and another 7% contribution from wind and solar combined.

Might it not be preferable to meet those reductions sooner than later and then continue the conversion away from shale gas and other non-coal fossil fuels to renewables? It is going to take a village to change how we do what we do and its going to take time to turn the Titanic around. What is one small thing you can do today to contribute towards a brighter future for your children and grandchildren?


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