Trump is wrong on China Global Warming Hoax but right on the policy consequences

Summary

  • Donald Trump’s famous tweet that Global Warming is a Chinese Hoax is false, but the policy implications are correct.

  • Total proposed climate policies under the Paris Agreement will not stop global emissions rising, but the policy aim is to have global emissions falling rapidly after 2020.

  • The Rio Declaration 1992 exempted developing countries from a primary obligation to constrain, let alone reduce, emissions. 

  • By 2012 the exempted countries accounted for 64% of global emissions and over 100% of the global emissions growth since 1990.

  • The exempted, countries will collectively have emissions rising for decades to come.

  • The most efficient policy is a carbon tax, applied globally. But even this is highly inefficient, only working by making fossil fuel use unaffordable to all but the very rich. That is morally unacceptable in developed countries, whilst would stop developing countries developing, likely leading to civil wars.

  • Actual climate mitigation policies are less efficient and more costly than a carbon tax.

  • Pursuing mitigation policies in just the developed countries harms the poor disproportionately and harms manufacturing. Such policies may not even reduce global emissions.

  • Even if catastrophic global warming is true, the policy reality is the same as if it were a hoax. In either case they are net harmful to the policy countries.

  • Like with utterly ineffective drugs that harm the patient, the rational response to climate mitigation policies is to ban them.

 

 

President-elect Donald Trump infamously claimed on Twitter

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

I believe that statement to be totally false. The Chinese had nothing (or essentially nothing) to do with the climate alarmism that the Western intelligentsia (especially in the Anglosphere) seem to religiously accept as a series of a priori truths. But the policy implications of believing such a false position are pretty much the same for a policy-maker that (a) accepts as truth catastrophic global warming hypothesis, (b) puts their country first (but still values highly people in other countries, with an emphasis on the poor and the oppressed) (c) but understands the realities of global policy-making, along with the full economic impact of mitigation policy.

The Realities of Actual Mitigation Policy

The hypothesis is the basic form is that global human greenhouse gas emissions (mostly CO2) are resulting in rising greenhouse gas levels. This is forecast to cause large increases in global average temperatures, which in turn, many believe, will be catastrophic to the climate system. The major policy is to reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions to near zero.
The UNIPCC AR5 Synthesis Report, Summary for Policymakers 2014 tried to the maths very simple. They only looked at CO2 for the ballpark figures. Using the central assumption of a doubling of CO2 gives 3 degrees of warming, then 2 degrees comes when CO2 levels hit 450ppm. At end of 2016 it levels were about 404ppm, and rising at over 2ppm per year. Only is some warming from other greenhouse gases, so we are well beyond the 420ppm. That gives maybe 15 years tops. Somehow though figures seem to have been stretched a bit to give more time, something I will look at in a later post.
The UNFCCC – the body that brings all the countries together to cut emissions to save the planet – had an all-out bash at COP21 Paris in December 2015. In the lead-up all countries (excluding the EU countries, who let the masters in Brussels take the lead) made submissions on how they would contribute towards saving the world, or at least make a start up to 2030. Many were so vague, it was difficult to decipher the “ambition”. This was done to appear like the countries were doing something substantial, when in fact the proposals were often so insubstantial, that targets could be achieved by doing nothing at all. The UNFCCC put all the INDC submissions together on a global emissions graph.

The graph is very simple. Before the INDCs, emissions were forecast to follow the thin dark orange arrow. With the INDCs, the thick light orange forecast is still tracking upwards in 2030. The least-cost 2C scenarios is the blue arrow. This is going down by 2020, and by 2030 is substantially lower than today. The graph gives a very clear message – the whole exercise is pretty much an expensive waste of time. 40,000 people attended the meeting at Le Bourget airport North of Paris, including the vast majority of World Leaders. Rather than be honest, they went through the usual format with a breakthrough at five past midnight. Then they sent the “experts” away to think up yet more scary scenarios to get better proposals in the future.

 

Little More Policy will be Forthcoming

If they actually read the 1992 Rio Declaration, like Robin Guenier did in October 2015, they would have found out why. In particular Guenier draws attention to this statement in the declaration.

“The extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention … will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties.” [My emphasis]

These non-Annex 1 developing countries have had phenomenal economic growth, with driven by rapid development of cheap energy from fossil fuels. Guenier quotes some CO2 emissions figures. Instead, I have used the broader estimates of greenhouse gas emissions from the European Commissions’ EDGAR database, grouping the figures into the Annex I countries (the rich OECD countries, like the USA, Japan, European Union, Canada, Australia etc.); the Annex I Transitional economies (basically the ex-Soviet bloc in Europe); International air and shipping; and the Non-Annex, rest of the world.


The figures are quite clear. The growth in emissions in 22 years was greater in the Non-Annex developing countries than the world as a whole. But this is just the developing countries starting to catch up. The breakdown of the Non-Annex developing county emissions is below.

This “developing” part of the world now has 84% of the global population, but in 2012 was just 64% of the greenhouse gas emissions. India and China each have more than 4 times the population of the USA, Africa 3.5 times and S&E Asia 3 times. Whilst in China emissions growth will peak soon, in India emissions growth is only recently taken off.  In S&E Asia and Africa emissions growth has yet to really take off. No matter what the USA and a few other developed countries do, it will not make a big difference to the long-term outlook for GHG emissions. Now compare the global emissions to the UNFCCC graph of INDCs of the target emissions reductions for 2030. The UNFCCC scale is in billions of tonnes, whilst the scale I use is in millions. The least cost 2C scenario is lower in 2040 that the total non-Annex countries in 2012. Even without emissions growth in the non-Annex countries, the Annex countries could cut emissions by 100% and still the 2C limit will be breached by the 84% who live in countries with no obligation to cut their emissions.
But maybe the USA should cut emissions anyway? After all it will not cost much, so these developing nations will be brought into line. I only recently realized how wrong this view was. Economics Prof Richard Tol it one of the World’s leading climate economists, who (unlike me) happens to believe in the moral case for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. In a recent paper, “The Structure of the Climate Debate”, Tol explained how a global carbon tax was theoretically the most efficient means to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Use regulation, or rationing, or subsidies of renewables, and it will be more expensive – less bang for your bucks. However, I objected. He seemed to be saying that the carbon tax necessary to cut global emissions worked out at less than the taxation on gasoline in Britain. At over $3 (a level that is similar in much of Europe) there are still quite high levels of fuel usage. I can still remember my high school economics teacher, in teaching about elasticity of demand, said that a good example of inelastic demand were the “sin” taxes on booze, alcohol, tobacco and petrol (gasoline). You could have quite high taxes without impacting on demand. Well, after a few exchanges at cliscep blog turns out Tol (in the more technical Tol 2013 paper) was recommending a $210 tCO2 tax to be imposed in 2020 globally, plus an escalator of 5.5% a year forever. It would eventually make fossil-fuelled energy use unaffordable to all but the Hollywood A-listers. I showed British readers in GBP would that would mean, but for the US readers $210tCO2 is about $1.83 per gallon of gasoline. There would be uproar if it was introduced, and people might get more fuel efficient cars. With the escalator that would rise to over $3 a gallon in 2030, $9 2050, $35 in 2075 and$132 a gallon in 2100. There would also be similar hikes in electricity from coal and gas. This might not be fast enough to achieve the reductions required by the UNFCCC, but would not be sustainable in a country with democratic elections every few years.

But actual climate mitigation policies, are far less effective that the carbon tax. This includes subsidies or loan guarantees to speculative and unsustainable businesses, or flash renewable technologies that fail to deliver,

The carbon tax might be harmful to the poor and middle classes in America, but think of what it would do to the living standards of the poorest half of the world. Countries where parents are hoping that their children might enjoy cheap energy for cooking, lighting or heating, would see those hopes dashed. For billions of people their children or grandchildren would never have a family car, or be able to travel by plane. If the Governments of India, China or Indonesia tried to impose such high and escalating taxes there could be economic collapse similar to that of Greece, and likely civil wars.

Should the Rich countries still do something?

So maybe the United States, and other rich countries, should still adopt policies regardless. After all, they should pay for the (alleged) harms that are leading to disaster. But if the proposers had any understanding of the real world, they would know that just as economic growth has been propelled by abundant supplies of cheap, available and reliable energy. In international trade what is “cheap” is a relative concept. In the nineteenth century steam power was very expensive compared to electricity today. But at this point in time, when developing countries are make power more available and driving their unit energy costs down. Steam power was much cheaper, and more available than water power, which in turn was cheaper than human or animal power. Yet implementing emissions reduction policies, the rich countries are driving those unit energy costs up just as developing countries have been driving unit energy costs down and making power more available. The USA and EU countries are generating a comparative disadvantage. But, as the developed nations tend to be more energy efficient, the net effect on global emissions may be to increase them, despite the policy countries decreasing theirs. That net effect is unlikely to be as large as any actual savings in the policy countries. What is more, the costs of policy will fall on the poor, and those areas of employment with high energy usage and that compete internationally.

An argument for climate mitigation is that it is to make small sacrifices now to save future generations from the much larger costs of future catastrophic climate change. That is only true if global emissions are cut significantly, at a cost lower than the actual harmful impacts that would have occurred without policy. As policy to cut emissions will makes very little difference to global emissions, then the sacrifices could be of a small benefit in non-policy countries, but be to the net disadvantage of future generations in the policy countries. The biggest burden of the costs of policy will fall on the poorer sections of society and manufacturing in the policy countries.

The Moral Case Against Climate Mitigatiom

If the medical profession insisted on patients taking drugs that did not work and had harmful side effects, then in litigious America they would be sued for all they had, and likely jailed. But when the climate alarmists, back by the liberal establishment, insist on policy that cannot work and causes substantial harms they are not held to account. Indeed, so pervasive are the beliefs in climate alarmism, it is an act of heresy to even question this false policy. Now the tables are turned.

The first thing that should be done with harmful drugs that cannot work is to ban them from sale. For an incoming President, the first thing to do with harmful and useless policies is to rescind them.

Kevin Marshall

 

The Climate Alarmist Reaction to a Trump Presidency

A few weeks ago cliscep had a piece Trump, climate and the future of the world that looked at the immediate reactions to the surprise victory in the US Presidential election amongst the climate community. Brad Keyes noted Jo Romm’s piece will President Trump pull the plug on a livable climate?. To support this Romm stated

Indeed, one independent firm, Lux Research, projected last week that “estimated emissions would be 16 percent higher after two terms of Trump’s policies than they would be after two terms of Clinton’s, amounting to 3.4 billion tons greater emissions over the next eight years.”

There is a little graph to sort of back this up.

Whilst Romm then states two reasons why he does not think emissions will rise so much (Trump will cause a massive recession and will not win a second term) he then states the Twitter quote:-

That said, the damage and delay that even a one-term President Trump could do will make the already difficult task of keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.

So a difference of much less than 3.4 GtCO2e over eight years will make keeping total warming well below 2°C essentially impossible.
Before looking at the evidence that contradicts this, there are even more bizarre claims made by the expert climate scientists at RealClimate. They use a different graph which is probably a couple of years old and explain:-

Here are some numbers. Carbon emissions from the United States have been dropping since the year 2000, more than on-track to meet a target for the year 2020. Perhaps with continued effort and improving technology, emissions might have dropped to below the 2020 target by 2020, let’s say to 5 gigatons of CO2 per year (5000 megatons in the plot). In actuality, now, let’s say that removing restrictions on energy inefficiency and air pollution could potentially lead to US emissions by 2020 of about 7 gigatons of CO2. This assumes that future growth in emissions followed the faster growth rates from the 1990’s.
Maybe neither of these things will happen exactly, but these scenarios give us a high-end estimate for the difference between the two, which comes to about 4 gigatons of CO2 over four years. There will also probably be extra emissions beyond 2020 due to the lost opportunity to decarbonize and streamline the energy system between now and then. Call it 4-6 gigatons of Trump CO2.
This large quantity of gas can be put into the context of what it will take to avoid the peak warming threshold agreed to in Paris. In order to avoid exceeding a very disruptive warming of 1.5 °C with 66% probability, humanity can release approximately 220 gigatons of CO2 after January, 2017 (IPCC Climate Change 2014 Synthesis report, Table 2.2, corrected for emissions since 2011). The 4-6 Gtons of Trump CO2 will not by itself put the world over this threshold. But global CO2 emission rates are now about 36 gigatons of CO2 per year, giving a time horizon of only about six years of business-as-usual (!) before we cross the line, leaving basically no time for screwing around. To reach the catastrophic 2 °C, about 1000 gigatons of CO2 remain (about 20 years of business as usual). Note that these estimates were done before global temperatures spiked since 2014 — we are currently at 1.2 °C! So these temperature boundaries may be closer than was recently thought.

RealClimate come up with nearly twice the difference made by Joe Romm / Lux Research, but at least admit in the final paragraph that whoever won would not make much difference.
There are two parts to putting these analyses into context – the US context and the global one.
In the USA emissions have indeed been falling since 2000, this despite the population growing. The rate of decline has significantly increased in the years of the Obama Presidency, but for reasons quite separate from actions to reduce emissions. First there was the credit crunch, followed by the slowest recovery in US history. Second, the high oil price encouraged emissions reductions, along with the loss of energy-intensive industries to countries with lower energy costs. Third is that the shale gas revolution has meant switching from coal to gas in electricity production.
But the global context is even more important. RealClimate does acknowledge the global figure, but only mentions CO2 emissions. The 36GtCO2 is only two-thirds of total greenhouse gas emissions of about 55GTCO2e and that figure is rising by 1-2% a year. The graph – reproduced from the USA INDC submission to the UNFCCC – clearly states that it is in million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. What is more, these are vague policy proposals, that President Obama would have been unable to get through Congress. Further, most of the proposed emission reductions were through extrapolating trends that of what has been happening without any policy intervention.
If the 1.5°C limit breached from 220 GtCO2e of additional emissions, it will be breached in the run-up to Christmas 2020. The 1000 GtCO2e for the 2°C limit was from 2011. By simple arithmetic it is now below 800GtCO2e with about 15 years remaining if (a) a doubling of CO2 levels (or equivalent GHG gases) leads to 3°C of warming (b) the estimated quantity of emissions to a unit rise in atmospheric gas levels is correct and (b) the GHG gas emitted is retained for a very long period in the atmosphere.
Even simple arithmetic is not required. Prior to the Paris talks the UNFCCC combined all the INDCs – including that of the USA to cut emissions as shown in the graph above – were globally aggregated and compared to the approximate emissions pathways for 1.5°C and least-cost 2°C warming. The updated version, post-Paris is below.

The difference Donald Trump will make is somewhere in the thickness of the thick yellow line. There is no prospect of the aimed-for blue emissions pathways. No amount of ranting or protests at the President-elect Trump will change the insignificant difference the United States will make with any politically-acceptable and workable set of policies, nor can make in a country with less than a twentieth of the global population and less that one seventh of global emissions.

Kevin Marshall