Adieu, Paris

Teasing Apart the Pros and Cons of the Paris Agreement

Pardon my French, but je suis confus. As outrage over Trump’s exodus from the Paris Agreement reaches near global conflagration, it seems, at least to the passive observer, that an atrocity of the highest order has been committed. Indeed, Trump’s treatment of the Paris Agreement has been lambasted as one of the single greatest abrogations in recent American history. If such claims are true, then the President should be derided for his ignorance and held accountable for his complicity in the forthcoming climate disaster.

Of course, this narrative is largely one-sided. Cross-cutting any conversation concerning climate change is an impregnable ideological fence: if you are on its left, Trump’s withdrawal is merely a continuation of his mindless demagoguery and a perpetuation of his flagrant apathy towards our fragile earth. If you are on the right of this fence, then you applaud the President for his measured concern for our national interests and scoff at the hullabaloo frenzying those on the left.

My goal in writing this piece is to the “bridge the gap,” so to speak, and offer an objective take on what has now become nothing short of a national maelstrom. To accurately do so, I believe it is necessary to stake the conversation from both sides of the aisle.

The Right’s Argument

The supposed “benefits” of the Paris Agreement are far outweighed by its costs. From an economic vantage, there is little doubt that the accord would hamper U.S. resource production for the foreseeable future and depress the “available jobs pool.” According to the National Economic Research Associates (a non-partisan economic consulting firm), the Paris Agreement would cause resource production to fall precipitously across the board (38% on average) and lead to some 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025. Further, NERA estimates that the U.S. would stand to lose 440,000 manufacturing jobs permanently, and leave American households with an added deficit of $7,000 per annum by the accord’s end in 2030.

Now, the above pitfalls could be palatable given two additional factors: if all countries were subject to similar constraints or if threat to our Earth was truly contingent on this agreement in the first place. The facts say “nay” to both.

The onerous burden of the Paris Agreement will certainly not be shouldered by all sponsors alike. Trump was quick to point-out that China, though it is now the leading net-producer of Co2 emissions by a factor of two, will not be forced to halt their emissions until 2030  – a rather concerning prospect for Americans keen on maintaining global economic leadership. What about India? The burgeoning state has not necessarily pledged to cut their emissions — they are rapidly industrializing after all — but has stated that it hopes to produce 40% of just its electricity from non-fossil fuels by 2030. These are but two examples that underscore a pernicious inequity.        

But, what about the threat to mother Gaia? Assuredly, the agreement would have made a huge difference, right? Again, we encounter difficulty. Environmentalist and public policy researcher Bjorn Lomborg published a series of papers challenging the utility of the Paris Agreement, and concluded using the U.N.’s own model that even if the U.S. were to execute all policies and practices in full, it would have a net effect of 0.05ºF by the accord’s end. In other words, it would stave off global warming for a whopping 4 months. Now, take that a step further. Even if every single sponsor met its targets,which would arguably be a U.N. first, and even more miraculously continued to do so without fail for the next century, global temperatures would be reduced by a total of 0.3ºF – far short of the arbitrary 2º Centigrade (3.6ºF) . Even in this most ideal of scenarios, the combined result would be a mere 4 year warming forestallment – a rather meager payoff when compared to the $100 trillion in estimated costs.

The Left’s Argument

The Paris Accord was never intended to be an environmental cure-all, but a necessary step in the right direction.

First, the pecuniary ramifications of the accord have become something of misnomer. For instance, the $100 trillion price tag seems extraordinarily hefty without proper context. Last year’s global GDP was approximately $107.5 trillion. The above figure, regularly by cited climate skeptics, assumes the accord’s cost curve remains identical and constant for the next century (a rather ridiculous leap in logic in and of itself). By simple arithmetic, we calculate that the Paris Accord thus imposes a mere 1% strain on GWP (Global GDP) per annum. Another way to conceptualize that figure? About 4,000 celebrity divorces, or a year’s salary for 18 million U.S. teachers.

Second, limiting discussion of the accord’s utility to dollars and cents is a tad parochial, to say the least. America’s global leadership is an intangible good. It has no universally accepted price tag. That it is a largely incalculable factor does not make such leadership less valuable, nor less necessary. Trump’s defiance of the Paris Agreement, which we should remind ourselves was a completely voluntary arrangement, was for this reason a short-sighted gambit; to recuse the U.S. from the arrangement made Trump, nor his nation, any allies. In fact, the withdrawal ultimately marked another fracture in a now abrupt string of diplomatic blows exchanged between the U.S. and its European neighbors.

Third, Lomborg’s conclusions are limited. There is sound logic in assuming that the Paris Agreement’s framework will generate something more akin to a 2.7ºF change by the century’s close. After all, is it really fair, or for that matter reasonable, to assume that countries will not become more carbon-conscious over the course of a century? As countries become better equipped with green tech, are motivated by an increasingly environmentalist voting base, and/or begin to harness alternative energy sources, they will undoubtedly craft more stringent policy guidelines.

Conclusions

The Paris Agreement should be conceived not as stepping-stone to a high-minded environmentalist agenda, but a global “pat-on-the back.” Consider what made the Kyoto Protocol monumental and somewhat successful – it had teeth. There were penalties in place for compliance failures. Each nation was held to a certain emissions “standard,” and if it was unsuccessful in meeting its obligations, it would be subject to a variety of consequences, including a mandatory 30% increase in additional carbon cutbacks the following cycle. While the U.N. is frankly impotent, insofar as it cannot meaningfully punish a country, the compliance guidelines under the Kyoto Protocol still proved potent.

Yet the Paris Agreement had no enforcement arm; it did not set emission guidelines for nations based on third party mandates. It was a voluntary assignment wherein each nation could set up its own goals of convenience. Are we honestly to assume that each nation would have freely and without fail made good on their self-made, largely ambitious promises?

Economic difficulties too are a serious consideration. That idea that the U.S. would funnel $7,000 in annual household income just to keep pace with Paris provisions that will ultimately yield a less-than-modest reduction in global emissions is plain flippant. Further, a wound to the nation’s energy sectors would assuredly paralyze swaths of the nation’s labor base — an eventuality that would likely result in higher unemployment and hence snowballing subsidies.

I would argue, and this is maybe a first, that Trump was right to abandon the gratuitous and frankly enfeebled arrangement. Instead of continuing to operate as the superfluous lender of last resort, and doling out literally billions of dollars to save diplomatic face, it should behoove the United States –– and for that matter the global community –– to focus on finally developing a compelling solution to a real and imminent problem.

Researchers and policy advocates from across the globe have opined that it is high-time to accelerate investment in Green-Tech Research and Development (RND). At present, little more than 6-10% of energy consumption is derived from renewable resources. This is chiefly due to the exorbitant costs associated with its procurement and practice. A true solution to Climate Change, not this fictitious, diplomatic white rabbit chase into obscurity, lies in allocating sufficient investment to green-tech developing firms. It is only in the evolution of such cost-effective technology that we can finally make headway vis-a-vis global fossil fuel outlays.

Another compelling reason to develop inexpensive green tech? Developing nations will need it if they hope to stamp-out their own future carbon footprint. Geoffrey Barraclough noted almost 40 years ago that it is irrational and selfish to expect industrializing nations to blunt the acuity of their industrialization processes, or forgo it altogether, for the sake of planetary fitness.

In summary, the hullabaloo accompanying the Paris Accord is ill-placed. The agreement would have incontrovertibly dented the U.S. economy –– at the behest of more favorable arrangements abroad –– all for an unprofitable and fleeting diplomatic fix.     

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