With 195 countries signing on, the Paris agreement has been touted as a “global action plan” designed to save the world from climate change.
So the recent decision by President Trump not to sign on was, according to former Secretary of State John Kerry, “walking backwards from science and backwards from leadership on behalf of polluters and fringe ideologues.” He added that it “may be the most self-defeating action in American history.”
Oh really? For perspective, it’s worth taking a look at energy usage, both globally and in the U.S.
U.S. vs. Germany
Environmentalists, politicians, journalists and assorted do-gooders typically point to Germany as a model of environmental consciousness, given its heavy reliance on renewables, such as solar and wind power. The U.S., meanwhile, is the bad guy, achieving success with a highly industrialized economy at the expense of the environment.
So it’s worth comparing Germany’s carbon dioxide emissions with those of the U.S. Which country has done more to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in recent years?
The United States has. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) fell 12% in just 10 years, from 2005 through 2015. Emissions fell by another 1.7% in 2016, according to the EIA.
Meanwhile, in Germany, CO2 emissions increased by 0.9% in 2016, according to energy research firm AG Energiebilanzen e.V., as growth in energy consumption outstripped the country’s reduction in coal use and increase in renewable energy sources. AGEB even blames the extra day created by leap year as one of the reasons for the increasing emissions (it didn’t stop the U.S. from decreasing emissions, though).
CO2 emissions in Germany were about the same in 2016 as they were in 2009, when they dropped by 7.4% from the previous year, which indicates that a recession can do more to effect climate change than renewable energy.
So how is the U.S. reducing emissions when its use of renewables doesn’t even come close to the level of renewable use in Germany?
By fracking (i.e., hydraulic fracturing), which has resulted in the availability of huge reserves of natural gas, which has about half the impact on the climate as oil. As the EIA notes, “Many of the changes in energy-related CO2 emissions in recent history have occurred in the electric power sector because of the decreased use of coal and the increased use of natural gas for electricity generation.”
Renewables Having Little Impact
Of course, we all wish that environmentally friendly energy sources like solar and wind could fulfill all of our energy needs. It’s not even close to happening, though.
Meanwhile, nuclear energy produces no emissions and could have had a major positive impact on climate change, except that environmentalists have all but killed it off.
Renewables now account for about a third of Germany’s electricity generation (12.6% of total energy) and the country is on track to phase out nuclear power usage by 2022, and yet there has been little impact on CO2 emissions.
The emphasis has had an impact, though, on the cost of energy. According to Der Spiegel, as a result of “Germany’s aggressive and reckless expansion of wind and solar,” electricity has become so expensive, it is now “a luxury good.”
That the U.S. is outperforming Germany in the reduction of CO2 emissions may tell you all you need to know about the Paris agreement. But there’s more to consider, such as the non-binding nature of the agreement and the fact that the signatories have since its creation failed to meet its voluntary goals.
“What the critics don’t seem to recognize is that the Paris agreement itself was a huge failure,” Charles Krauthammer wrote in The Washington Post. “It contained no uniform commitments and no enforcement provisions. Sure, the whole world signed. But onto what? A voluntary set of vaporous promises. China pledged to ‘achieve the peaking of [carbon dioxide] emissions around 2030.’ Meaning that they rise for another 13 years.”
India, meanwhile, is in the process of tripling its coal-fired production of electricity by 2030 – but it’s the U.S. that gets the criticism.
John Kerry is far from the only person to criticize President Trump and the U.S. for failing to sign the Paris agreement. The other G7 countries, for example, have signed on to the Paris agreement and have criticized the U.S. for not doing so.
Several G7 countries are also NATO members, though, and have failed to meet their agreement to spend at least 2% of GDP on defense. Even with significant cuts, the U.S. spends 3.6% of GDP on defense.
“Translated, they expect the United States to weaken its economy based on an unproven, but rather expensive theory about the effects of climate change,” John Tamny wrote on Real Clear Markets, “but when it comes to living up to a longstanding agreement among NATO members to share the costs of a mutual defense shield, they’ll let the U.S. foot the bill.”
Tamny noted that nations in the European Union have likewise failed to meet the terms of other agreements, such as Maastricht, which required them to limit their deficit spending by keeping their debt-to-GDP ratio below 60%.
“As of 2015, Germany (74.4%), France (89.6%), and Italy (122.3%) were all well above what the G-7 countries committed to when they signed the treaty that led to the euro,” he wrote.
So what’s the value of the Paris agreement? As President Obama and John Kerry found, it provides a great photo opp. But don’t expect it to have any noticeable impact on the environment.