Nov 30, 2015 - 4:30pm

Two Big Problems for President Obama’s Paris Climate Efforts


Senior Editor, Digital Content

For the next few weeks, the nexus of international environment and energy policy is in Paris as world leaders try to hammer out an agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

President Barack Obama is there holding out EPA’s Clean Power Plan as the United States' main contribution to the talks. However, there are two serious problems with President Obama’s approach, one domestic and the other global.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) informed Washington Post readers that the president’s costly carbon regulations rest on shaky legal and political ground:

The courts appear likely to strike it down, the next president could tear it up, more than half of the 50 states have filed suit against it, and — critically — a bipartisan majority in both chambers of Congress just approved legislation to expressly reject it.

That bipartisan opposition in Congress remains even if Obama tries to veto the legislation we passed. So it wouldn’t make much sense to ask Congress to allocate resources for global commitments predicated on a plan the president went around Congress to impose — nor would it make sense for Obama to try to make those commitments in the first place.

The international foundation isn’t any firmer. The president’s mission in Paris ignores the fact that nations seek to advance their own interests. China and India, the second and third-highest carbon dioxide emitters, want continued economic growth. While U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have been flat since 1990, China’s and India’s have been rising.

For countries even more in need of economic development, they want the benefits (industrialization, greater access to clean water, better health care, etc.) that cheap energy provides. When push comes to shove, the desire for cheap energy to power economic growth and poverty eradication will trump any deal made in Paris.

What’s more, any agreement that comes out of the talks will be based on hollow, “trust me” numbers, as Douglas Holtz-Eakin of the American Action Forum explains:

First, countries are supposed to commit to carbon (greenhouse gas, more generally) emissions reductions. BUT, to identify reductions, one must first have a “baseline”— what would happen in the absence of policies to reduce carbon emissions — and a policy forecast — what would happen in the presence of the policies. For the Paris talks, every country gets to submit its own baseline and its own policy forecast. Put in the worst light, a country can achieve any level of emissions reductions by gaming its baseline. In terms of emissions reductions, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and temperature rise any agreement in Paris will be utterly vacuous.

We saw this fuzzy math when we discovered that China was burning 17% more coal than originally thought—as much greenhouse emissions as Germany.

Holtz-Eakin also points out that the numbers in the agreement won’t be binding:

The second problem is that there will be no enforcement of the agreement. None. There cannot be effective global carbon emissions reductions without a combination of monitoring and enforcement. The absence of these provisions from the Paris agreement undercuts The Hill reporting that “the Paris meeting presents a rare opportunity to make significant headway in fighting climate change."

Assuming that an agreement is reached and every nation that signs it fulfills every obligation, U.S. Chamber President and CEO Tom Donohue notes, "Global emissions will still rise by 18% between 2010 and 2030."

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As we've seen recently with the shale energy boom, American innovation and stretching the technological limits will mean lower energy costs and a better environment. But that will be impeded if President Obama has his high-cost, regulatory way.

“We should be embracing this energy renaissance,” Karen Harbert, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber’s Institute for 21st Century Energy, told Fox Business’ Maria Bartiromo. “And yet the president wants to penalize it and make energy prices more expensive here at home.”

EPA’s carbon rules will take us in the wrong direction for consumers and businesses. President Obama’s contribution in Paris is all pain for little gain.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean writes about public policies affecting businesses including energy, health care, and regulations. When not battling those making it harder for free enterprise to succeed, he raves about all things Wisconsin (his home state) and religiously follows the Green Bay Packers.