After two weeks, huge amounts of political rhetoric, and much activity behind closed doors, we have a treaty. While there will be celebrations among activists, the Paris Treaty will do very little to rein in temperature reductions.
The Paris Treaty promises to keep temperature rises below 2°C. However, the actual promises made here will do almost nothing to achieve that. It is widely accepted that to keep temperature rises below 2C, we have to reduce CO₂ emissions by 6,000 Gt.
The UNFCCC estimates that if every country makes every single promised Paris Treaty carbon cut between 2016 and 2030 to the fullest extent possible and there is no carbon leakage, CO₂ emissions will be cut by 56 Gt by 2030.
The math is simple: in an implausibly optimistic best-case scenario, Paris leaves 99% of the problem in place. To say that Paris will get us to 2C is cynical posturing at best. It relies on wishful thinking.
It is like going on a diet to slim down, but declaring victory after the first salad. Paris will be extraordinarily costly. It is likely this is the most expensive treaty in the history of the world.
Using the best individual and collectively peer-reviewed economic models, the total cost of Paris – through slower GDP growth from higher energy costs – will reach $1-2tr every year from 2030.
We owe the world much more – both in terms of tackling climate change better, and in spending resources smarter.
The best thing to come out of Paris was the announcement of the Bill Gates-led green energy innovation fund together with private individuals, and governments including Australia, US, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Germany, France, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, South Korea, and the UAE. This is an excellent initiative. I have argued for greater spending on R&D for a decade. Even more funding is needed; the Gates-led fund is what is really going to make a difference to the climate.
Until there is a breakthrough that makes green energy competitive on its own merits, massive carbon cuts are extremely unlikely to happen.
Claims that carbon cuts will be free or even generate economic growth do not stack up given today’s technology. Every economic model shows real costs. If not, we wouldn’t need the Paris treaty: every nation would stampede to voluntarily cut CO₂ and get rich.
The agreement to spend $100bn on climate aid is a poor way to help the developing world. Their citizens clearly say, this is their lowest policy priority and climate aid provided by handing out solar panels has meagre benefits compared with the many better, cheaper ways to help, like investing in immunisation, girls’ education, and family planning. While billions lack food, health, water and education, distributing solar panels is simply immoral.
The Gates innovation push is great news and the only way we can start tackling the 99% of the climate problem not addressed by Paris.
After Paris, I will be advocating for an even greater investment in green energy research and development. Funding in the region of $100bn annually is what is needed.
Bjorn Lomborg is Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and Visiting Professor at Copenhagen Business School. He researches the smartest ways to help the world, for which he was named one of Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. His numerous books include The Skeptical Environmentalist, Cool It, How to Spend $75 Billion to Make the World a Better Place and The Nobel Laureates’ Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030.