by Judith Curry
In the wake of the breaking announcement that Russia, Japan and Canada told the G8 they would not join a second round of carbon cuts under the Kyoto Protocol at United Nations talks this year and the US reiterated it would remain outside the treaty, it is instructive to took a look at what has been going on in the context of the UNFCCC.
The title of this post comes from a recent hearing from the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
- The Honorable Dana Rohrbacher, Subcommittee Chair
- Mr Todd D. Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change, U.S. Dept. of State
- Mr. Elliott Diringer, VP for International Strategies, PEW Center for Climate Change
- Daniel Twining, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for Asia, German Marshall Fund of the U.S.
- Steven F. Hayward, Ph.D., F.K. Weyerhauser Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Some excerpts from the testimony are provided below, along with my comments and also comments from Rick Piltz’s blog (RP).
Chairman Rohrbacher is skeptical of the science of climate change (and is referred to as a “denier” at RP’s blog). Some excerpts from his opening statement:
Significantly in determining what the heck is going on here is the fact that the UN climate talks have not become a forum for global cooperation, but an arena for competing national interests.
Under the slogan “common but differentiated responsibilities” a “zero sum” world was created which pitted developed and developing countries against each other and within each block of nations. Behind the debate over the supposed science of climate change, nations have fought for trade advantages, the transfer of technology, the flow of capital, and political influence. Coalitions have formed that will affect the global balance of power far beyond the conference halls.
The stakes are high; nothing less than how the future growth of the world economy will be divided up. Who will be allowed to prosper and who will be forced to slow down or even go into decline are issues on the table.
The purpose of this hearing is to examine the UN climate talks and the swirling maneuvers and power plays observed in the wake of these global gatherings. Are our national interests at stake? How can America protect its national interests against the demands of rivals? What coalitions confront us and how can we thwart moves hostile to our interests? Why do we not claim the same right to growth as other nation’s claim, and act as they do to protect that right?
JC comment: At the beginning of his opening statement, he provided a list of scientists that are skeptical of climate change. So while this is clearly about power politics, the scientists and the science are at least acknowledged (with people on both sides picking and choosing which scientists).
This testimony is worth reading in full since it provides a recent historical and political context for U.S. climate policy.
Our program – the Global Climate Change Initiative – is built on three pillars:
• First, clean energy, to help put devcloping countries on a low-carbon path, decrease pollution globally, bolster international energy security by strengthening reliance on domestic and renewable resources and create increased trade and investment in clean technologies and new opportunities for U.S. business and workers;
• Second, sustainable landscapes, which entails conserving forests, fostering sustainable land management, and combating illegal logging around the world. We do this not only to limit climate change, but also to preserve the home of at least 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial species. including 70 percent of plants identified as having anti·cancer characteristics; and
• Third, adaptation, which mcans building resilience against cxtreme weather events to reduce the risk of damage, loss of life and broader instability that can result from extreme weather and climate events, such as droughts, floods, and extreme storms. Whatever your views on climate change, the United States needs to – and always docs – stand ready to help countries victimized by such events. It is who we are, and it is in our own interest to do these things. It is part of why people around the world look with favor on America. Likewise, helping countries take action in advance that reduces damage from extreme events makes good sense and is cost-effective: the World Bank Eslimates that every dollar spent on disaster preparedness saves $7 in disaster response.
With regards to the UNFCCC:
Most fundamentally, many developing countries, including large ones, continue to be fixated on preserving the firewall between developed and developing countries. As I have explained, we see this as both unjustified and incompatible with solving the problem. As I have said repeatedly, we are not going to be part of a new agreement with a fixed, bright~line, 1992~vintage firewall. After all, the notion that the world should be indefinitely divided for climate change purposes into categories establishcd in 1992 makes no sensc. Thc world has changed dramatically since that time.
Beyond the firewall qucstion, there arc other difficult issues that could derail the international negotiations. . . The question for the UN climate negotiations, at the end of the day, is what parties want.
The UNFCCC has the potential to be a cooperative, mutually beneficial platform- though not the sole platform- for combating climate change. It also has the potcntial to be a platform focused mostly on rhetorical thrust and parry, with a thick overlay of accusation and blame. The one vision is useful. The other is not.
We will continue working to support that first, cooperative vision, always bearing in mind that the central mission of our discussions must be to try to address the climate challenge, not to settle old scores. The ongoing challenge for the UNFCCC is to be the kind of body that remains relevant to that task. We have made some good progress, especially in working to knock down the firewall I’ve discussed, and in insisting on a new level of international transparency. But much work remains.
From RP’s blog: At the conclusion of Stern’s panel, the Chairman again advocated that any international agreement, the purpose of which, in his view, was to remove autonomy from the U.S. and stifle economic development, was unacceptable as U.S. policy. Stern challenged that framing by asserting that lying dormant while other international powers sat at the negotiating table was similarly unacceptable as an approach to global climate change.
I would like to focus my testimony today on three topics: 1) the status of the international climate negotiations, and the objectives that should guide U.S. climate diplomacy; 2) the policies being implemented in other countries – including our major trading partners – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and 3) the environmental, economic and security rationales for stronger climate action.
My principal points are as follows:
• The past two years have seen the emergence of a more realistic and balanced approach in the international climate negotiations, thanks in large measure to the efforts of U.S. negotiators. The United States must remain fully engaged in the talks with the aim of strengthening multilateral support and transparency, thereby promoting action while laying the groundwork for a future binding agreement.
• A growing number of countries are pursuing policies that help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many see the challenge as an important opportunity as well. Some of our major trading partners are moving aggressively to grow their clean energy technology industries, which create domestic jobs and high-value exports. Without stronger policies creating similar incentives here, the United States risks falling further behind in the rapidly expanding clean energy market.
• U.S. inaction on climate change exposes our nation to real and rising risks. The longer we delay action, the harder it will be to avert the worst consequences of warming, the higher the cost of coping with those that can not be avoided, and the further we fall behind in the clean energy race. Taking steps now to expand clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is squarely in our strong national interest.
Mr. Chairman, U.S. inaction on climate change exposes our nation to real and rising risks. The longer we delay action, the harder it will be to avert the worst consequences of warming, the higher the cost of coping with those that can not be avoided, and the further we fall behind other countries in the clean energy race. Taking steps now to expand clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is quite clearly in our strong national interest.
As the world’s largest economy, leading innovator, and largest cumulative emitter, the United States also has a responsibility to to the international community. Thanks to U.S. efforts, the global climate effort now appears headed on a more reasonable course. Our ability to continue to shape that effort in the years ahead depends heavily on a demonstrated commitment to address climate change here at home.
Must U.S. climate diplomacy be a wedge rather than a bridge between the United States and key international partners? Arguably, poor American diplomacy combined with the flaws of the United Nations-led climate-change negotiations have had the effect of isolating the United States from important friends and allies rather than enabling it to build like-minded coalitions on environmental issues of shared concern. A more effective approach would integrate U.S. interests in mitigating climate change with broader strategic concerns vis-à-vis both allies and rising powers. It would work to produce positive-sum outcomes to climate negotiations facilitated by joint development and deployment of key energy and environmental technologies, rather than succumbing to a zero-sum logic pitting the developed world against the developing world in global, U.N.-led multinational arenas.
Both U.S. diplomacy and the cause of managing climate change would benefit from a different approach to tackling global warming: one that was not U.N.-led with universal membership in which small countries can play the role of spoilers and global consensus is achieved only with lowest-common-denominator results that please no one. Climate negotiations instead could take the form of smaller groupings led by the great powers, as the world’s largest emitters, in closed-door negotiations that could encourage countries like China to be constructive rather than to grand-stand. From a U.S. perspective, joint development and application of key energy and environmental technologies with friendly emerging economies could replace the setting of vague environmental targets without action plans to meet them.
Although tech-transfer concerns unquestionably apply to China, American businesses and officials are far more comfortable with the possibilities for collaboration and talent-sharing with Indian, Brazilian, Indonesian, and other rather than attempting to bring these countries onside in the more difficult context of global, multilateral climate negotiations. Finally, prioritizing climate concerns at the expense of broader strategic ties puts the cart before the horse: in the case of countries like India, both U.S. interests and the wider climate agenda might be better served by building comprehensive strategic partnerships that develop over time the mutual trust necessary for hard but necessary collaboration on managing climate change. Because climate change is expected to hit countries like India especially hard, New Delhi and other emerging centers of power do have an incentive to become constructive players on this issue. The United States can and should help them do so.
I will begin with my contentious conclusion, which is that the international diplomacy of climate change is the most implausible and unpromising initiative since the disarmament talks of the 1930s, and for many of the same reasons; that the Kyoto Protocol and its progeny are the climate diplomacy equivalent of the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 that promised to end war (a treaty that is still on the books, by the way), and finally, that future historians are going to look back on this whole period as the climate policy equivalent of wage and price controls to fight inflation in the 1970s.
The diplomatic approach—the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC)—first set in motion formally at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 has reached a dead end. I think the dead end of what might be called “first generation climate diplomacy” was tacitly on view at the last major climate summit in Cancun a few months ago. It is important to understand the deeper reasons why if we are going to chart a new course on climate that has a better chance of making real progress.
But climate assistance has revived the old idea of requiring wealthy nations to indemnify poor nations. The German newspaper Neue Zurcher Zeitung observed shortly before the Cancun summit last year: “The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economy summit during which the distribution of the world’s resources will be negotiated.” What prompted this conclusion was a candid admission from a UN official closely involved with the climate negotiations, German economist Ottmar Edenhoffer: “But one must say clearly that we redistribute de facto the world’s wealth by climate policy. Obviously, the owners of coal and oil will not be enthusiastic about this. One has to free oneself from the illusion that international climate policy is environmental policy. This has almost nothing to do with environmental policy anymore.” This is the kind of loose and unserious talk that brings discredit to the UN and to international climate diplomacy. But it is very popular with much of the UN’s constituency, and America’s diplomatic corps indulges this mentality with polite indifference.
I conclude briefly with two observations. First, the nation that made the largest climate assistance commitment at Cancun—to the tune of $15 billion—was Japan. I don’t think there is anyone who thinks Japan should make good on that commitment right now. This suggests how events may rapidly change our perceptions and priorities of risk.
Second, what approach can replace the UN diplomatic track? This is a long subject, but a more likely path to more significant climate outcomes would focus not on emissions limits but an emphasis on cheap decarbonization of energy through innovation, the approach we at AEI have recommended in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and the Progressive-leaning Breakthrough Institute in California in a report called “Post-Partisan Power.” And the diplomatic framework for this would ignore the UN and start with the leading economies of the OECD nations, a process begun tentatively by the Bush Administration, but which now appears to have been embraced by the Obama Administration in the aftermath of the failures of Copenhagen and Cancun.
He concludes by recommending the Hartwell paper and Pielke Jr’s book The Climate Fix.
Summary comments from RP’s blog
Rohrabacher seemed most interested in those alternative approaches that create markets or incentives for private investments in alternative energies. He was joined by Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Missouri), who specifically asked each of the panelists to suggest how the U.N. climate talks and an international agreement might affect domestic industries and the transfer of intellectual property rights relating to new technologies. Rohrabacher argued that a global climate change policy need not resemble a command and control regulation, and indicated he had less of a problem with providing incentives for private parties to enter the market for efficient energies, which could serve as the U.S. domestic climate change policy. He warned that global environmental policy shouldn’t take the place of good domestic economic policy.
The fundamental disagreements expressed at the hearing reflect the state of U.S. policy today. The U.S. currently has no coherent climate change policy or strategy – i.e., none that represents the agreed position of the governing institutions. Global climate policy and international agreements first require that individual nations possess the political will to address the issue. The U.S. currently lacks that political will, although the Obama administration has taken some steps to advance meaningful negotiations and develop new agreements.
The lack of a coherent U.S. climate policy weakens the U.S. position in international negotiations. It will remain a problem until the U.S. has a strategy commensurate with the importance of the issue, and until U.S. negotiators represent a government that is prepared to make and live up to strong international climate policy commitments. That will require, not only a commitment by the White House and administration negotiators, but a Congress ready to move beyond the kind of anti-science distractions and obstructionism represented by members like Rep. Rohrabacher.
First, the three pillars of the U.S. Global Climate Initiative are examples of robust, no/low regret policy options. As I have argued previously, emissions stabilization target is not a robust policy options. I view the U.S. Initiative as positive, and this is something that makes sense and I can generally support.
Second, I was struck by Hasting’s testimony where he described the collaborative effort between the libertarian AEI, the Brookings Institution and the progressive-leaning Breakthrough Institute in California, to consider Hartwell-style low/no regrets policy options. It looks like this group could be developing some bi-partisan common ground policy ideas.
And finally, with the exception of Elliot Diringer, none of the others felt that the UNFCCC Kyoto extension was desirable or viable, and this reflects the position of the Obama administration as per Stern’s testimony.
Message to climate scientists (especially in the U.S., and especially the climate/science establishment): now that the UNFCCC treaties do not seem to be desired by even the most progressive U.S. administration in recent (and likely future) decade, please rethink your allegiance to the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology. Let’s get back to doing climate science as it should be done: challenging every aspect of the climate science to broaden and deepen our understanding of the climate system and the full range of possible future climate scenarios associated with both natural climate variability and anthropogenically forced climate change. And supporting policy makers in developing and assessing a broad range of robust, no/low regrets policy options.