The Lima conference is to draw up a draft agreement to be adopted next year in Paris as a “legally binding” treaty that the Green movement hopes will compel governments to turn back the clock on economic growth – at least in the “developed” Western countries. This aim is supported by a majority of the “developing” countries who see the climate issue as a way to transfer capital and technology “from the West to the rest.” And with a wealth shift will come a power shift. China is the nation most interested in such an outcome.
By William R. Hawkins l December 16, 2014
On December 1, the United Nation’s annual climate conference opened in Lima, Peru. The two week Conference of the Parties brings together delegates from 194 countries to discuss ways to handle “climate change.” It is easy to dismiss these meetings; this one marks the twentieth year of such gatherings, as just excuses for bureaucrats and activists to travel to exotic locales to have a good time, dressed up with bloviating rhetoric about “saving the planet.” The hippy-dippy weathermen image has been elevated this year by holding meetings in tents. As the UN itself describes the setting, “Much of the social pulse of the Conference is felt outdoors, in an almost park-like setting in the areas between the facilities.” Conference President Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Environment Minister of Peru, pledged that “voices will be heard” and “bridges will be built.” Marchers waved signs proclaiming “Keep the Oil in the Soil” and other Luddite notions. In other words, the usual spectacle.
But this time, there is danger behind the ludicrous facade. The Lima conference is to draw up a draft agreement to be adopted next year in Paris as a “legally binding” treaty that the Green movement hopes will compel governments to turn back the clock on economic growth – at least in the “developed” Western countries. This aim is supported by a majority of the “developing” countries who see the climate issue as a way to transfer capital and technology “from the West to the rest.” And with a wealth shift will come a power shift. China is the nation most interested in such an outcome.
As an op-ed in Global Times (a publication of the Chinese Communist Party) stated on December 3, “Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese delegation, told media before the Lima conference that the thorniest question to be addressed remains whether developed countries could fulfill their obligations in providing developing countries with support for financing, technology and capability building to tackle climate change. Developed countries, especially the US and Europe, are the biggest historic polluters and they should help their poorer counterparts financially to make the transition to renewable energy.”
Beijing’s ambition is fully within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) drawn up in 1992. It established “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities;” a principle that is intended to be unequal and prejudicial against the U.S. The third line of the Convention notes “that the largest share of historical and current global emissions of greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs.” Though it is the world’s largest national economy and number one emitter, China is still considered by the UN to be a developing country. The Convention confirms national sovereignty in how each party approaches climate issues.
The first “legal instrument” negotiated under the UNFCCC was the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required 37 “developed” nations to cut back their carbon emissions while placing no limits on the “developing” world. The U.S. did not become a party to Kyoto because of this unequal mandate. The American position has always been, even during President Barack Obama’s first term, that the U.S. would not agree to anything that did not apply to everyone; otherwise those who did not have to comply would gain a competitive advantage on those who had to play by the rules.
The last major attempt to create a successor agreement to Kyoto (which expired in 2012) failed in 2009 when President Obama walked out of the Copenhagen conference after a confrontation with China over the principle of unequal obligations. Beijing will not agree to any restrictions on what it can do to promote economic growth. Thus, the standard today is that nations will only act on a voluntary basis. A new treaty will reestablish coercion, but will only be acceptable to the UN majority if only the West is subject to it. An amendment to extend Kyoto for another eight years was offered in 2012, but so far only 21 nations have signed on – 19 being developing countries to which Kyoto’s mandates do not apply (the other two are Norway and Monaco).
Unfortunately, President Obama wants to leave a Green legacy and now seems willing to accept an unequal agreement. His domestic agenda was rejected in last month’s elections. His “war on coal” cost the Democrats two Senate seats in Montana and West Virginia. And Republicans won every Senate race along the proposed Keystone XL pipeline route: Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas – with Louisiana following in the December run-off. But Obama hopes to get around the Republican Congress by using the UN to back his play.
He accepted the UN-China terms in the US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change he issued with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on November 12. Point two of the statement says, “They are committed to reaching an ambitious 2015 agreement that reflects the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in light of different national circumstances.” The unequal principle was manifest in the bilateral announcement itself, with the U.S. pledging to accelerate its cutbacks while China asserted its emissions would continue to grow until 2030. Beijing is clearly not anticipating that next year’s UN treaty will have any effect on its behavior. Thus, the Chinese delegation was happy to host a speech by Al Gore on December 10 since his campaign against the Western economies serves their interest.
And when Secretary of State John Kerry addressed the conference as it closed, he also praised Gore and accepted the allegation that the major developed economies were responsible for global warming and would have to lead in the effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Americans deserve an unrestricted future; one open to enterprise and innovation. The new 114thCongress must examine the results of the Lima conference and act without delay to block off any attempt to place the U.S. economy under UN mandates before matters come to a head in Paris next year.
William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.