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U.S. Out of Paris (For Now), But Nothing Much Has Changed

November 6, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #378

As I write this on Friday, November, 6 we still don’t know who will be the president of the United States in 2021. All the votes have not been counted yet, and accusations of voter fraud and irregularities have to be settled by the courts. One thing we do know for certain, though, is that as of now, the United States is no longer a party to the Paris climate agreement. Per the terms of the agreement, America’s withdrawal from the Paris climate accord became official on November 4.

In reality, the United States ceased to functionally participate in the Paris agreement after President Trump announced our withdrawal at a June 1, 2017 press conference at the White House Rose Garden. The invitation-only event was attended by numerous climate realists, including Joseph Bast, then-president of The Heartland Institute.

As a candidate for president, Trump vowed to take the United States out of Paris if he were elected because, he rightly argued, it was a bad deal for the American people. Under the agreement, signed by the Obama administration in December 2015, the United States was required to cut its carbon-dioxide emissions 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and provide billions of dollars in funding to the United Nations’ Green Climate Fund. The agreement also required the United States and every other signatory country to carry out stricter emission cuts every five years. The goal is to prevent the Earth from warming by more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100.

Numerous studies showed meeting the carbon-dioxide targets imposed on the United States under Paris would force the premature closure of many of the nation’s least-expensive power plants. NERA Economic Consulting estimated meeting the obligations under the agreement would cost the U.S. economy nearly $3 trillion. And by 2040, the United States would have lost 6.5 million industrial-sector jobs, including 3.1 million manufacturing jobs.

Trump also pointed out the Paris agreement allowed major economic and geopolitical competitors—such as China, India, and Russia, which are among the world’s largest greenhouse-gas emitters—to continue expanding their emissions (something they’ve done with gusto), making their economies comparatively more competitive and attractive to investment than the United States.

Trump kept his campaign commitment, and signed the papers to pull America out of the Paris agreement. Yet, as designed by Obama—knowing his time as president was ending and hoping to make it hard for future administrations to withdraw—its provisions made getting fully out of it a lengthy process. As BBC describes it:

 
Even though the agreement was signed in December 2015, the treaty only came into force on 4 November 2016, 30 days after at least 55 countries representing 55 percent of global emissions had ratified it.

No country could give notice to leave the agreement until three years had passed from the date of ratification. Even then, a member state still had to serve a 12-month notice period.

So, despite President Trump's White House announcement in June 2017, the US was only able to formally give notice to the UN in November last year. The time has elapsed and the US is now out.

 
To avoid having to submit it to the Senate as a treaty—where he knew it would fail to be approved—Obama claimed it was an executive agreement with its commitments being voluntary. He then did a second end-run around Congress and proceeded to try and meet its emission reduction commitments through regulations. These included (1) the so-called Clean Power Plan, imposed to make it impossible for coal-fueled power plants to continue operating; (2) a huge increase in the federal fuel economy standard, to force all but the smallest gasoline and diesel powered vehicles off the road; (3) a halt to new oil and gas lease sales on federal lands; and (4) new limits imposed on methane emissions from existing natural gas operations on federal lands.

Trump has rescinded and/or modified all of the executive and regulatory actions Obama imposed to meet the Paris agreement.

As for effectively combatting climate change, nothing really changed with the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Under Trump, our emissions continued to fall with the increasing use of clean-burning natural gas. In China, India, and elsewhere, new coal plants have been completed, are under construction or being planned, and greenhouse gas emissions have continued to increase. Even in Europe and Japan, which pledged to begin significantly reducing emissions by 2020, emissions have risen.

More importantly, as I explained in a Climate Change Weekly edition at the time of its signing, the Paris climate agreement was a sham from the start, doomed to fail to prevent temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius by 2100—a fact the countries signing it knew at the time. It was virtue signaling at its worst—and extremely costly!

A UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report noted even if every country were to strictly abide by their individual commitments to cut or cap emissions under the Paris agreement, temperatures would still rise by 3 degrees C by 2100. UNEP calculated the Paris agreement would provide only one-third of the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed to keep global temperatures from rising less than 2 degrees. According to the report, unless global greenhouse gas emissions peak before 2020 (whoops, we missed that target by a wide margin) carbon dioxide levels would soar beyond the 2030 targets, which the report says would make it “extremely unlikely that the goal of holding global warming to well below 2 degrees C can still be reached.”

If Joe Biden is ultimately determined to be the next president of the United States, he has vowed on his first day in office to rejoin the agreement. However, Biden’s pledge may not be that simple to keep. Just like there was a process for leaving the agreement, there is also a process for rejoining it. Technically, Biden could submit a formal written notice to the United Nations after his inauguration in January that the United States intends to reenter the agreement. Under the terms of the treaty, just 30 days later, America would officially rejoin.

Yet, it is not that simple. Other countries could, under the agreement, set conditions on the United States to rejoin the pact, conditions contained in the original agreement. For instance, the Paris parties could require the U.S. to submit its revised, stricter emissions targets and plans to meet them—targets and plans due this year that the Trump administration did not work on—before rejoining the pact. Since no country, as far as I can tell, including America, is on track to meet their initial emission reduction targets, it will be even harder for them, and a newly recommitted United States, to meet these stricter goals.

In addition, there is the significant matter of America meeting its commitments under the Paris agreement to pay its share of the $100 billion annual Green Climate Fund (GCF), established in 2014, and enshrined in the 2015 Paris agreement. The GCF is a program intended to help developing countries adapt to, and mitigate, changes to the climate. Developed countries were supposed to provide $100 billion annually to the fund, with the U.S. agreeing to cover a disproportionate share of funding—tens of billions of dollars each year. It’s 2020 and, even absent the U.S. share, the fund is far from its $100 billion payment for the year. Before allowing the U.S. to rejoin the Paris agreement, nations could require a newly minted Biden administration to pony up our original commitment, and perhaps even a down payment for next year. Does anyone really think funding the GCF is going to be high on Congress’ to-do list as the nation still struggles to recover economically from the pandemic, and with more budget-busting, deficit-growing, pandemic relief packages in the hopper?

In the end, whether we’re in or out of Paris, nothing other than the climate has really changed. If one believes greenhouse gas emission are causing temperatures to rise, the Paris agreement does not set sustainable targets to keep temperatures rising more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Biden can cripple the U.S. economy by brining us back into the Paris agreement and attempting to meet America’s original or enhanced emission targets, but he can’t change the weather or the reality that greenhouse gases are going to continue to rise.

 
— H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: BBC; The Heartland Institute; Climate Change Weekly; CBS; CNN; Climate Change Weekly; Climate Change Weekly

IN THIS ISSUE …

U.S. CITIES FAILING TO MEET THEIR VIRTUE-SIGNALING CLIMATE GOALS … CEREAL CROP HARVESTS SETTING RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD … RESEARCH SHOWS EU’s VANISHING-SHORE CLAIMS ARE FALSE


U.S. CITIES FAILING TO MEET THEIR VIRTUE-SIGNALING CLIMATE GOALS

A new report by the Brookings Institution finds most large American cities that made commitments and statements of intent to cut carbon-dioxide emissions in the aftermath of the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement are failing to make significant progress toward their emission reduction goals.

Brookings’ study, “Pledges and Progress,” states two-thirds of the nation’s 100 most populous cites committed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions, yet most of those pledging to do so have done nothing to accomplish their goals. Of the 45 large cities that set specific targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions and pledged to take an inventory of emission levels within their jurisdictions to establish a baseline for measuring progress, two-thirds have fallen behind the emissions targets they set. An additional 22 cities made general pledges to cut emissions, and Brookings found none of them has taken any steps to conduct an inventory of emissions or implemented even a single program or policy to cut emissions.

Brookings found more than half the cities that pledged to inventory and cut emissions have done nothing to meet their commitments.

Many cities pledging to cut emissions have found their commitments run afoul of state policies, Brookings reports. As they should have realized before making their commitments, city governments control only a small part of the emissions within their respective jurisdictions.

For example, when Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania inventoried greenhouse gas emissions in 2013, it estimated an annual citywide total of 4.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, of which only 115,069 metric tons came from operations directly under the city government’s control.

Boston, Massachusetts found that to meet its commitment to achieve a carbon-neutral economy by 2050—a pledge it made when it joined the Metro Mayors Climate Mitigation Commitment in 2016—all homes and business would have to move away from using oil and natural gas for residential and building uses (heating, cooking, water heating, etc.) to renewable energy, and public transportation or battery-powered cars would have to replace all personal vehicles. In addition, the city estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 buildings each year would have to undergo a deep retrofit to install electric heating and hot water systems along with improvements in insulation for windows, walls, and roofs for the city to meet its commitments. The city, however, lacks the authority to force its residents and businesses make the changes its leadership has determined are necessary to reach their commitment to become carbon-neutral.

SOURCES: Science Magazine


CROP HARVESTS SETTING RECORDS AROUND THE WORLD

Contrary to numerous articles in the mainstream media claiming anthropogenic climate change will cause an increase in hunger because of declining crop production, multiple sources report crop yields and production have continued a long-term growth trend, especially in developing countries where hunger is most prevalent and has declined the fastest in recent decades.

Brazil’s state-owned National Supply Company (Conab) reports it expects the country’s 2020-2021 grain harvest to beat the record set in the previous season by 4.2 percent. Conab estimates the forthcoming grain harvest will top 268.7 million tons—11 million tons more than the previous year’s record harvest of 257.7 million tons. Conab also projects Brazilian soybean production will top 133.7 million tons, maintaining the country’s rank as the world's leading soybean producer. Soybeans are Brazil’s main agricultural export.

The Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), a subgroup of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, reports strong growth in Australia, the European Union, China, India, the United States, and Russia (in order of production growth) will set a new record in world wheat production in the 2020-2021 crop year, at 764.9 million tons. This yield would surpass the previous production record, set in 2019-2020, by more than 3.3 million tons. In addition, despite increased demand for wheat, AMIS estimates wheat stocks increased by more than 10 million tons in the latest crop year.

Crop production news out of Africa is rosy as well. The African Development Bank (ADB) reports that under a program it established an increasing number of countries are planting high-yield seed varieties resistant to drought, various crop pests, and temperature extremes. The program is already paying dividends in Sudan, which recorded its largest wheat harvest ever, topping a 1.115 million-ton harvest from 315,500 hectares of farmland, ADB reports. “That’s quite an improvement from just five years ago, when farmers in Sudan working about a quarter-million hectares of land harvested just 472,000 tons of the grain,” ADB reports.

Australia reports it expects its winter crop production—primarily wheat, barley, canola, and rice—to rise 49 percent above its 10-year average in 2019-20, increasing by 60 percent year over year, driven largely by a huge increase of crop production in New South Wales (NSW). Good rainfall in NSW resulted in a winter crop production of 14.5 million tons this season, compared with 3.3 million tons and 3.2 million tons in the two previous crop years.

SOURCES: MercoPress; Grain Central; African Development Bank; The Guardian


RESEARCH SHOWS EU’s VANISHING-SHORE CLAIMS ARE FALSE

In the midst of the pandemic in March, Nature Climate Change publicized a study by researchers at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre, headlined “Climate Change: Life’s a (Disappearing) Beach.” The study received widespread media coverage.  “Half of the world’s beaches, many of which are in densely populated areas, could disappear by the end of the century under current trends of climate change and sea level rise,” the authors project based on climate models.

In a more recent paper in Nature Climate Change, scientists from 12 universities around the world reexamined the data and methodology used in the alarming study, and they came to a radically different conclusion. Their reanalysis found the computer models used in the earlier study were seriously flawed and the researchers involved in it made “arbitrary and unjustified” assumptions about the fate of sandy beaches.

Using a shoreline detection method and satellite data, the new study found more beaches are growing than are eroding during the current period of warming. They found 24 percent of the world’s sandy beaches are eroding by more than 0.5 meters per year, 28 percent are accreting (growing), and 48 percent are stable.

Summarizing the data, “Australia and Africa are the only continents for which net erosion (−0.20 m/yr and −0.07 m/yr respectively) is found, with all other continents showing net accretion,” the authors state.

The research team concludes no single explanation can easily account for the observed erosion or accretion trends for sandy shorelines either globally or for any particular beach. However, they found the primary culprit for beach loss in some locations seems to be sand mining and land subsidence caused by near-shore groundwater withdrawals in growing beachfront urban areas—not climate change.

SOURCES: The Times; Scientific Reports; Global Warming Policy Foundation; Nature Climate Change

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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