As Secretary of State John Kerry prepares to sign the U.S. on to the Paris Climate Agreement on April 22 – Earth Day – there are lessons from past international climate agreements, namely the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, we would be remiss to ignore.
First, let’s call the Paris Agreement what it is: a political stunt for President Obama to do what President Clinton could not with the Kyoto Protocol.
To recap, in 1997, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which set forth binding targets and timetables for greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions for developed countries—countries like the U.S. and European Union. Meanwhile, developing countries like China, India, and Brazil got a free pass. In fact, the Kyoto Protocol exempted 80 percent of the world from GHG emission reductions.
I could talk extensively about how it was known then that without developing countries, Kyoto would produce no meaningful impact on global climate change. What is most important now—in advance of the Paris Agreement signing—is holding the Obama Administration accountable to the lessons learned from the fallout of Kyoto.
Let us not forget, the Kyoto Protocol, which was a legally binding treaty as opposed to the non-binding Paris Agreement, was signed by the Clinton Administration in late 1998, but was never submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification.
This was because the Senate had already voted, 95 to 0, to approve the Byrd-Hagel resolution, which warned the president against signing a climate treaty that would either economically harm the U.S. or exempt developing countries from participating.
In 2001, the U.S. formally rejected the Kyoto Protocol and looking back on Kyoto’s track record that is a very good thing.
Ultimately, 36 developed countries were legally bound to its GHG targets and 17 – nearly half – of them failed to meet their GHG targets.
Some countries joining Kyoto, like Iceland, had targets that actually granted increases in GHG emissions while others, like Russia, had a target of zero – requiring them to do nothing. The same goes for Russia today with the Paris agreement. Russia pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 30 percent, but made their promise based off emission levels from 1990 – not their current emission levels today. By playing with numbers, Russia’s commitment will actually allow it to increase emissions over the next few years.
Others including Japan—the host country for signing Kyoto— significantly missed its GHG reduction targets and instead increased emissions.
There were warning signs countries would fail to meet the Kyoto targets.
For example, in 2005, the year Kyoto went into force, as then-Chairman of EPW Committee, I held a hearing on Kyoto where I questioned then-U.S. Senior Climate Change Negotiator Harlan Watson about EU countries meeting their targets.
Watson testified that at the time only two EU countries – the UK and Sweden – were on track to reaching their targets. Watson also noted that at least 15 of the then-25 members of the EU had actually increased their emissions since signing onto Kyoto.
Another witness, Dr. Margo Thorning of the American Council for Capital Formation, told the Committee, EU “policymakers are beginning to worry about the additional steps required to meet the targets.”
We now know that they were right. The EU, one of the staunchest advocates for global GHG emission cuts, barely reached half of its required GHG targets under Kyoto.
If developed countries, like those in the EU have ignored legally binding GHG emission targets in Kyoto, it’s highly likely they will not meet the voluntary GHG reductions promised in Paris.
Within the EU, some individual countries such as Poland have already shown fierce opposition to the Paris Agreement due to their reliance on coal power.
Some have said Paris is different because developing countries like China agreed to GHG targets. However, the devil is in the details.
China’s climate change commitment to peak their emissions by 2030 is a business as usual scenario and therefore they won’t have to take any serious action to reduce emissions.
Furthermore, after making their pledge, The New York Times uncovered that China dramatically underreported the amount of coal it burns per year – burning 17 percent more than what China had previously reported during climate talks.
Just last month, a London School of Economics and Political Science researcher found that it is possible that Chinese emissions have already peaked. It’s no wonder when the country is bringing online a new coal power plant every 10 days.
Now why would China bother putting forth such a commitment and why would the Obama Administration promote it as historic?
First, it is in the interest of China to ensure this commitment is ratified since it makes it more difficult for the U.S. and EU to get out of economically damaging regulations that limit our energy use.
Second, it is in the interest of President Obama to sign this agreement since his own legacy hinges of its ratification.
We’ve seen this before. Think back to Kyoto. Clinton did not have the support of the Senate. Yet, Clinton delegated his UN Ambassador to sign it.
And we know what happened – they signed it and so did many other countries, but the difference between the signatories is that U.S. signature means nothing without Senate ratification. That was true then and it is still true today.
The Obama Administration should take note. History repeats itself. If Secretary Kerry signs the Paris Agreement, as we all expect him to do so, it will be an act in defiance of lessons from the past and in defiance of the best interests’ of the American people - all while achieving no meaningful impact on global temperatures.
Just like Koyto, countries will not comply. Here at home, the president’s means to force the U.S. to achieve his 26-28% emission reduction pledge–primarily through the so-called Clean Power Plan which is likely to get struck by the courts and its implementation has already been blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Even before the Supreme Court stay of the Clean Power Plan, the president was short of meeting 40% of his pledge. Without the Clean Power Plan, the U.S. will fall short by 60% of President Obama’s pledge.
As the world closes the books on another failed climate deal this Friday in New York, the only achievement that President Obama and his liberal allies will be able to point to is the massive carbon footprint left behind from their government-funded planes used to travel to numerous climate negotiations that all amounted to a hollow deal to bolster the president’s legacy.