If you have been following the news at all for the past several weeks, you know that the latest gigantic UN “climate” conference, going by the name COP (Conference of Parties) 26, has been taking place in Glasgow, Scotland. Mercifully, it ended yesterday, Saturday, November 13. All of those hundreds of private jets have now flown home.
Every time one of these UN confabs takes place, you have to hold your breath fearing that some tremendously damaging result will emerge. But, reviewing the final outcome of this latest conference, my comment is that we climate realists have gotten about the best result we could have hoped for. If you read some mainstream news sources, you may well get exactly the opposite impression. So let me give my reasoning.
At this point, there are basically two paths that the world might take in the movement toward so-called “decarbonization” of the energy system:
Path 1 is the path of strict world socialism. Of course, this is the preferred path of climate activists and UN bureaucrats. In this scenario, the entire world is forced, through binding international agreements, into an energy straightjacket, mandating reduction and then elimination of the use of fossil fuels within two or three decades at most.
Path 2 is what happens when there are no compacts with material binding worldwide energy restrictions. On this path, everybody talks a good game about decarbonization but, lacking meaningful binding agreements, most of the countries, with most of the population, continue to pursue whatever energy system is most reliable and cost effective. In practice that almost inevitably means fossil fuels for most to all applications. Meanwhile, a small number of wealthy, small-population jurisdictions that somehow become obsessed with the perceived virtue of eliminating fossil fuels — likely examples being Germany, California, New York, the UK, and perhaps South Australia (aggregating about 2-3% of world population) — will push the limits of decarbonization and intermittent renewable energy sources. They will then be the guinea pigs for the rest of the world to find out whether a decarbonized energy system can be made to work, and at what cost.
The end of the COP26 conference has shown that we are not on Path 1, and are unlikely to go there.
The key difference between the two scenarios is what happens in the nearly inevitable circumstance where the new “decarbonized” energy system fails to work cost-effectively or reliably, leading to enormously increased prices, shortages, and/or frequent blackouts. On Path 1, when that happens, the world’s people get forced into universal energy poverty with no obvious way to escape, and the bureaucrats and left wing press undoubtedly find some way to blame oil companies or some other capitalist bogeymen for the disaster. On Path 2, the 97-98% of the world that has not committed energy suicide can sit back and observe while the guinea pigs self-destruct. Eventually, the people in the guinea pig jurisdictions will catch on that they are being forced to pay a multiple of a reasonable price, and for energy that does not work very well, and they will replace their politicians.
How long will it take for these suckers to catch on? It could take a long time. Note that California and Germany, with self-inflicted energy prices well above those of surrounding jurisdictions, continue to double down and vote for more of same. But then, they are very wealthy jurisdictions, and it is their own problem.
And by the way, if the guinea pigs succeed in decarbonizing at little to no cost in either money or reliability, I will be the first to congratulate them. But they won’t succeed.
So let’s take a look at the outcome of COP26, and consider where this is going. Here is the document put out by the UN on Saturday, November 13, that appears to be the final agreement of the conference. It is titled the Glasgow Climate Pact, although it also states that it is still a draft, calls itself a “Proposal by the President,” and as yet bears no signatures on behalf of any country.
Go to the New York Times yesterday, and you will find them spinning like a whirling dervish trying to characterize this as some kind of a major breakthrough:
With the bang of a gavel, diplomats from nearly 200 countries on Saturday struck a major agreement aimed at intensifying efforts to fight climate change. . . . [T]he agreement established a clear consensus that all nations need to do much more, immediately, to prevent a catastrophic rise in global temperatures. It outlined specific steps the world should take, from slashing global carbon dioxide emissions nearly in half by 2030 to curbing methane, another potent greenhouse gas. And it sets up new rules to hold countries accountable for the progress they make — or fail to make.
For even wilder spinning, try this at New Scientist:
Nearly 200 countries have made an unprecedented and historic pledge at the COP26 climate summit to speed up the end of fossil fuel subsidies and reduce the use of coal. . . . Crucially, despite almost a fortnight’s negotiations that ran more than 24 hours late, the 196 countries meeting in Glasgow committed to issuing stronger 2030 climate plans next year in a bid to avert dangerous global warming.
Well, that’s the spin. If you go to the document itself, you won’t find anything that can be fairly called an “agreement,” let alone an “unprecedented and historic pledge.” The document consists of some 97 numbered paragraphs, each of which begins with an italicized verb that states what the “Conference of Parties” is doing here. The verbs run a wide gamut from “recognizes,” to “welcomes,” to “expresses,” to “recalls,” to “stresses,” to “notes,” to “emphasizes,” to “urges,” and on and on and on. But you won’t find “agrees,” or “commits,” or “pledges,” or anything comparable to those concepts anywhere in this document.
Wasn’t the idea that the parties were supposed, every five years after the Paris agreement (2015), to come back with new and more restrictive pledges to reduce their carbon emissions? OK, last year the thing got postponed. But here we are back together, and where are the new pledges? Basically, they put the whole thing off again to next year:
26. Emphasizes the urgent need for Parties to increase their efforts to collectively reduce emissions through accelerated action and implementation of domestic mitigation measures in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 2, of the Paris Agreement; . . .
29. Recalls Article 3 and Article 4, paragraphs 3, 4, 5 and 11, of the Paris Agreement and requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances. . . .
The parties were also “requested” to “strengthen” their 2030 targets this year, but it appears that they did not do so. Is there any reason to think that they will do so next year, or any other year?
And how about the hundred billion dollars per year that the developed countries were supposed, under the Paris agreement, to be handing over to the third world kleptocrats? Here are paragraphs 44 and 46:
44. Notes with deep regret that the goal of developed country Parties to mobilize jointly USD 100 billion per year by 2020 in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation has not yet been met. . . .
46. Urges developed country Parties to fully deliver on the USD 100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025 and emphasizes the importance of transparency in the implementation of their pledges. . . .
It looks like even the Europeans are not stupid enough to fall for this one — although Biden is stupid enough. But Biden can’t do it on his own. And good luck to India, with its request for a trillion a year just for itself.
Clearly, the refusal of the developing countries (which include China and India, with about 35% of world population between just the two of them) to agree to energy suicide is keeping us off Path 1. I don’t see anything about that changing any time soon. Certainly not before 2030, by which time those two countries, and plenty of others with large populations (Indonesia, Vietnam, Philippines, Pakistan, Nigeria) will have swamped any fantasies about world emissions reductions by building swarms of new coal plants.
At this point, the biggest risk is that Biden and the Democratic Congress together put through enough of a “Green New Deal” to effectively destroy the U.S. energy sector and leave the world with no clear shining example of energy success. It’s getting less and less likely, but could still happen.