Green Watch Comment

Paris treaty: a lot of cost for doing very little

The only global treaty to cut carbon —the Kyoto Protocol — famously failed when it was never ratified by the U.S., and eventually abandoned by Canada, Russia and Japan.  

Today, world leaders and their entourages will disembark from carbon-spewing jets in New York to sign the world’s costliest-ever climate change treaty. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be among them. Lit by the flashbulbs of the world’s press and warmed by their sense of accomplishment, these politicians will pat each other on the back and declare a job well done. The reality is that the so-called >“Paris Treaty” is a hugely expensive way of doing very little.

The Paris Treaty talks a big game. It doesn’t just commit to >capping the global temperature increase at 2°C above pre-industrial levels. The text goes even further and says that the world’s leaders commit to keeping the increase “well below 2°C” and will try to cap it at 1.5°C.

But this is just rhetoric. My own research and the only peer-reviewed published assessment of the Paris agreement measured the impact of every nation fulfilling every major carbon-cutting promise in the treaty between now and 2030. I found that the total temperature reduction will be just 0.048°C by 2100.

Even if these promises were extended for another 70 years, all the promises will reduce temperature rise by 0.17°C by 2100. This is very similar to a finding by economists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is feeble.

We will hear claims this week from green campaigners that the treaty will do a lot more. But we should check their math. These claims are based on a completely unrealistic scenario where governments do little now and then embark on incredibly ambitious and climate change reduction policies after 2030.

History gives us more reason for scepticism. The only global treaty to cut carbon —the Kyoto Protocol — famously failed when it was never ratified by the U.S., and eventually abandoned by Canada, Russia and Japan. Even before that, the treaty had holes in it so big that it was never destined to achieve anything.

By the United Nations’ own reckoning, this treaty will only achieve less than 1 per cent of the emission cuts needed to meet target temperatures. Ninety-nine per cent of the problem is left for tomorrow’s leaders to deal with.

Cost of cuts

And what does it cost to make such feeble cuts? Models show that the total cost by 2030 will possibly rise to $2 trillion annually — more than India’s total GDP. It is likely to be the most expensive treaty in the history of the world. India highlights the need to make a sensible transition. More than almost any other nation, India knows that cheap and plentiful power is crucial. Like China, which over the past 30 years has lifted 680 million people out of poverty, a number greater than any nation has ever managed in the history of the world, India’s growth has been mostly powered by cheap, if polluting, coal.

Prime Minister Modi has suggested that he wants 100GW of solar power by 2022 and 60 GW of wind. This is highly ambitious; the International Energy Agency does not expect it to be achieved.

Moreover, the International Energy Agency shows that the electricity cost of both wind and solar will remain higher than the average generation cost in India, even in 2040. That is why solar in 2020 is expected to produce just 7 per cent of electricity in India, and provide just 1 per cent of India’s energy.

Right now India gets 0.3 per cent of its energy from wind and just 0.02 per cent from solar PV. Even in 2040, in an extremely optimistic scenario, India will get 1.3 per cent of its energy from wind and 1.3 per cent from solar — all in all 2.6 per cent. This emphasises that for the coming decades, India’s growth and development will be focussed on cheap, reliable power, often from coal.

India has proposed 455 new coal plants. As India sees its energy consumption increase by 150 per cent over the next 25 years, a larger proportion, almost half, will be serviced by coal.

And the fact is that this focus makes sense. Four hundred million people — almost one-third of India’s total population — lack reliable access to electricity. Since we know that power is one of the most crucial inputs to get out of poverty, it is crucial for India to focus on getting more power at low costs.

Eventually, that power will have to come from green energy, which will have to become cheaper. If it were truly economically advantageous to quit our fossil fuel addiction right now, we wouldn’t need a treaty. Every right-thinking nation on the planet would stampede to cut CO. Instead, we need green innovation.

A new green energy innovation coalition backed by the philanthropist Bill Gates, business leaders, and around 20 governments including India to double global green energy research and development is an excellent global initiative, and is likely to achieve far more than the Paris Treaty.

But the Gates fund is just a start. A panel of Nobel laureates for the project Copenhagen Consensus on Climate found that we shouldn’t just double R&D but make a 10-fold increase, to reach at least $100 billion per year.

Sadly, that will not be the focus of the treaty signed at the United Nations this Earth Day, which will do very little at a very high cost.

Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center

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Printable version | Oct 21, 2021 3:39:02 PM |

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