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The unbearable lightness of the Paris climate agreement

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The Paris climate agreement included much self-important huffing and puffing by delegates about saving the planet, perky articles by asleep at the wheel journalists about how terribly important it was, and in the end produced absolutely nothing. No hard goals were set. There is no enforcement. Member countries will self-report about attempts to reach self-defined goals. Surely a grateful planet must thank them.

Environmental media for the most part should be ashamed of its uncritical, gushing articles cheering this sorry, toothless agreement. Few if any of them spoke the obvious truth, preferring to rhapsodize about how the planet is finally working together to stop climate change, when in fact, nothing has changed.

The fact is that Paris is very meta. The agreement is about the agreement, never mind what’s in it or what its true legal force is — namely, nil. Paris is a legally binding agreement not to have legally binding limits on emissions. It might be the most worthless piece of paper since the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawed war — about a decade prior to the outbreak of World War II.

The Paris summit operated on the principle of CBDRILONCWRC, or “Common but Differentiated Responsibility in Light of National Circumstances With Respective Capability.” That means nothing was actually mandated on anyone because that proved — understandably enough, dealing with all the countries in the world — completely unworkable.

Instead, countries came up with so-called Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. That’s climate bureaucratese for “You make up your emissions target, whatever it is, and we will pretend to take it seriously.”

The sad truth is member countries were allowed to make up their own vague goals then report back about progress if there is any. China promised to hit peak emissions by 2030, which is when our government said they would anyway. India will be doubling its number of coal plants. And that is a perfect example of a genuine underlying problem. Western countries have already industrialized. Many other countries haven’t, and rightfully say they want cars, air conditioning, and modern appliances too. On this the Paris agreement is silent.

It speaks to a naive belief in the power of global shame over the sheer economic interest of developing countries in getting rich (and lifting countless millions out of poverty) through exploiting cheap energy — you know, the way Western countries have done for a couple of centuries.

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