By National Review Editorial Board
Well, that was a carbon-neutral plant-based nothingburger.
The 26th annual U.N. climate-change conference — that’s COP26, a “conference of the parties” in U.N.-speak — made for good theater. It put a lot of hours on a lot of private jets — Barack Obama, you have been cleared for takeoff — but it didn’t offer much in the way of meaningful new climate policy.
And that may be the best outcome that we could hope for.
If the real stakes were low, the drama was high. While the heads of government and climate activists traded pieties, Xi Jinping made a power move, declining to attend the conference at all — let Joe Biden do the hard work of pretending to give a damn about the Maldives. Beijing then swooped in at the last minute to steal the show — and the headlines — with a surprise bilateral accord with the United States.
That U.S.-China accord is typical of U.N. climate deal-making: It is a plan to have a plan — several of them, in fact. In this case, China is sticking to its existing plan for the near term — meaning that it will continue to increase rather than reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions through at least 2030 while promising to make more drastic cuts to emissions sometime in the coming decades. It has signed on to a vague commitment to “accelerated actions in the critical decade of the 2020s” and to setting up a new U.S.-China climate-policy working group.
In terms of hard commitments to meaningful action, there’s not much there. China, currently responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide, rejected meaningful curbs on its methane output, once again promising to come up with a plan . . . eventually. But, fear not: The statement declares that the two countries “recall their firm commitment to work together.” They rededicated themselves to “ambitious” action — “ambition” being the favorite word among the U.N. climate-activist crowd.
Translation: “We’ll always have Paris. And Doha, and Lima, and Katowice, and next year in Sharm el-Sheikh.”
John Kerry, the U.S. climate envoy, provided welcome comic relief, skulking around the conference with his retinue and getting upstaged and ignored at every turn, not only by the president but by the former president and even by the callow young representative from New York, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who was greeted like a Beatle while Kerry generated more of a Perry Como–type buzz.
India played the role of spoiler, pulling a last-second switcheroo on the language relating to coal: The commitment to “phase out” coal has been replaced by one to “phase down” coal, whatever that means. India has the world’s second-largest coal reserves (behind the United States), but China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of goal and holds the third-largest reserves. India’s move to torpedo the coal language enjoyed the quiet support of both Beijing and Washington — another example of the Biden administration talking out of both sides of its mouth on climate and energy policy.
An Indian negotiator insisted that India is “entitled” to its emissions as a matter of social justice: The rich world enjoyed cheap energy in much of the 20th century, and so (the argument goes) the developing world is owed the same benefit in the 21st. And therein lies one of the troubles with these negotiations.
We are told (endlessly) that this is a question of science, and that our policy goals can in fact be adduced from the scientific evidence. But as a matter of science, it does not matter to the climate one bit whether a ton of coal is burned in Uttar Pradesh or in Illinois — and so matters of science become matters of social justice when the facts and figures are inconvenient. The United Nations presents itself as a forum for internationalism, but it is in reality a theater of competing nationalisms, from Joe Biden’s tired, greenwashed crony capitalism to Narendra Modi’s slightly fresher version of the same thing.
This is a political problem for the climate activists because it is the developing world, not the rich countries, that will be responsible for most of the greenhouse-gas emissions in coming years. Going into Glasgow, the activists insisted that this convention represented the human race’s last chance to do something to prevent catastrophic climate chaos. But once the parties were assembled, they did not act as though they actually believe any such thing. Instead, what unfolded was the usual festival of rent-seeking, advantage-hunting, and money-grubbing at a global scale that marks almost everything the United Nations does or touches.
Read more at National Review.