Why the Paris climate treaty is just a load of very expensive hot air

solar panelsThis Friday, world leaders and their entourages will disembark from carbon-spewing jets in New York to sign the world’s costliest climate change treaty. 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 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. The text goes even further and says that the world’s leaders commit to keeping the increase “well below 2 degrees C,” and will try to cap it at 1.5 degrees.

But this is just rhetoric. My own research, and the only peer-reviewed published assessment of the Paris agreement, used the UN’s favourite climate model to measure 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 degrees by 2100. This is very similar to a finding by economists at MIT. China’s own contribution would be a minuscule 0.014 degrees reduction by 2100.

Even if these promises were extended for another 70 years, then all the promises would reduce temperature rises by 0.17 degrees by 2100 (with China contributing 0.048 degrees). It’s feeble.

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

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

By the United Nations’ own reckoning, the Paris 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.

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