It's Not the End of the World

It's Not the End of the World
Britta Pedersen/dpa via AP

President Donald Trump’s formal announcement that the United States plans to leave the Paris Climate Agreement met with outrage among environmentalists and world leaders alike, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“We're getting out,” Trump declared, “and we will start to renegotiate and we’ll see if there’s a better deal. If we can, great. If we can’t, that's fine.” In response, Macron warned that Trump “is making a mistake for the future of his country and his people and a mistake for the future of the planet.” “We are deeply disappointed that the United States federal government has decided to withdraw from the Paris Agreement,” Trudeau said in a press release. “Canadians know we need to take decisive and collective action to tackle the many harsh realities of our changing climate.” 

Protecting the environment is a noble goal and one worth pursuing — after all it makes sense to take care of one’s own home. But the Paris Climate Agreement is not an effective way to accomplish that goal. 

To see why, it is important to understand what the Paris Climate Agreement purports to do. The main goal of the agreement is to combat climate change by keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels as well as to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Additionally, the Paris Climate Agreement sets forth Nationally Determined Contributions where each country party to the agreement must make efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and report on their progress. Each country must continue to meet new goals over time and report their contributions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. 

Like a lot of agreements that come out of the U.N., the Paris Climate Accord lacks enforcement power. The Nationally Determined Contributions are not legally binding and can be adjusted as a country sees fit. There is nothing in the agreement to ensure that a given country keeps its promise to meet those goals. 

Back in 2015, Janos Pasztor, Senior Advisor to the U.N Secretary-General on climate change, discussed how the agreement was supposed to keep countries accountable. “The agreement is a mechanism for how countries will behave — the new rules of the game,” Pasztor told CBS News. “Whatever they commit to is not legally binding but they have to report…it is not name and shame, it is name and encourage.” 

It appears, then, that the Paris Climate Agreement relies primarily on the honor system. If a country fails to meet its Nationally Determined Contribution, then it gets pressured by the international community to keep trying, or it can just adjust its target. That’s it.

Jeffrey A. Tucker, the Director of Content for the Foundation for Economic Education, recently wrote a piece criticizing the Paris Climate Agreement for its voluntary nature:

The Paris Agreement is a ‘voluntary’ agreement because its architects knew it would never pass the US Senate as a treaty. Why? Because the idea of the agreement is that the U.S. government’s regulatory agencies would impose extreme mandates on its energy sector…and hand over to developing world regimes billions and even trillions of dollars in aid, a direct and ongoing forcible transfer of wealth from American taxpayers to regimes all over the world.

Tucker warns that globalist agreements like the Paris Climate Accord are both undemocratic and economically misguided. What is more, they will help fuel a dangerous anti-globalist backlash, including rising populism and nativism. 

How, then, should world leaders approach climate change? Embracing the free market is one way, as I’ve argued before in these pages. Free markets open the door to innovation and allow for companies and individuals to invest their wealth into environmental solutions. World leaders should consider the free market environmentalist approach championed by the Property and Environment Research Center as a way to protect the environment while also respecting property rights. They can listen to Matthew Kahn, a UCLA Professor of Economics, the Environment, and Public Affairs, who explains how economic growth can help solve the climate-change problem.

There are better ways to address climate change than entering into voluntary global agreements that cost billions of dollars without producing results. Free markets are a good place to start.

Lindsay Marchello is a Young Voices Advocate and an Associate Editor with the Carolina Journal.

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