The Futility of Cap and Trade

Yesterday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hosted a climate summit in New York designed to improve the chances that the December U.N. Copenhagen Climate Conference would produce a substantive treaty that would cap and cut carbon emissions. The Copenhagen agreement would replace the Kyoto Protocol that was rejected by the United States Senate 95 – 0. But as the Washington Post reports, even President Barack Obama’s star power failed to move nations towards meaningful carbon reductions:

Initially, many climate activists had hoped this year would yield a pact in which nations would agree to cut their greenhouse gas emissions under the auspices of a legal international treaty. But recent announcements by China, Japan and other nations point to a different outcome of U.N. climate talks that will be held in December in Copenhagen: a political deal that would establish global federalism on climate policy, with each nation pledging to take steps domestically.

But climate “federalism” would be pointless. It is called ”global” warming for a reason. Just ask Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson who admitted to the Senate this July that “U.S. action alone will not impact CO2 levels.” This is 100% consistent with all the best science which shows that the carbon reductions under the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill will not affect global temperatures in any material way. For example a recent study of cap-and-trade by MIT concluded:

The different U.S. policies have relatively small effects on the CO2 concentration if other regions do not follow the U.S. lead…The Developed Only scenario cuts only about 0.5 °C of the warming from the reference, again illustrating the importance of developing country participation.

Yesterday China tried to upstage Obama by selling their plan to “tackle this challenge” including promises improve the energy intensity and … plant more trees. But as University of Colorado professor of environmental studies Roger Pielke points out, China’s energy intensity claims simply defy reason:

China’s energy intensity in 2008 is about the same as it was in 2001. Any claim that China’s energy intensity has improved by 20% over the past five years is incorrect. … energy intensity has improved by only about 7.4% since 2005, meaning that it has a long way to go to reach a 20% target by 2010. Can it happen? Sure. But to say that China is “well on its way” does not square with the data. It would be “ironic” indeed if China has figured out how to grow its economy at 9% per year while increasing energy use by only 3% and decarbonizing its economy at an even lower amount. If this were true, then China would have discovered the holy grail of emissions reductions and we can all forget about the challenges of climate policy.

Economic growth is China’s number one priority, not global temperatures, which as the New York Times points out “have been relatively stable for a decade and may even drop in the next few years.” China isn’t the only one focused on providing jobs instead of appealing to the sensibilities of the enviro-left. The World Bank is spending billions to help poor countries build coal power plants. Marianne Fay, the bank’s chief economist for sustainable development, told The Times: “There are a lot of poor countries which have coal reserves and for them it’s the only option. The [bank’s] policy is to continue funding coal to the extent that there is no alternative and to push for the most efficient coal plants possible. Frankly, it would be immoral at this stage to say, ‘We want to have clean hands, therefore we are not going to touch coal’.”

Forcing people to sacrifice their jobs and economic opportunity to lower temperatures that are not rising is immoral. But that is exactly what the cap and trade legislation in Congress would do.

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