July 29, 2014

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COP-15: The Copenhagen Round of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change

By E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D.

Written for the Cornwall Alliance’s December 10, 2009 Newsletter

By the time this newsletter wings its way through the Internet to you, I’ll be winging my way to Copenhagen as a non-governmental organization representative during the climate treaty negotiations there. Expectations for Conference of the Parties-15 (COP-15) have swung dramatically up and down in recent weeks: it would result in a strong, binding treaty limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide; talks would collapse and no treaty would emerge; non-binding commitments would arise as the basis for negotiating a binding treaty next year in Mexico; or, most recently, with the release of the so-called “Danish text,” perhaps back to collapsing talks and no treaty.

Rather than play prognosticator, I thought I would simply share a few general thoughts about the conference.

First, it seems as if organizers, the overwhelming majority of whom are bureaucrats and diplomats, not scientists, are blissfully ignorant of important scientific findings over the last few years that convincingly demonstrate that climate sensitivity (how much warming can be expected from doubled carbon dioxide after feedbacks) is very slight—probably less than one-sixth what the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the 21 computer climate models on which it relies assume. (For discussion, including references to the studies, see chapter 2, “The Science of Global Warming,” in the Cornwall Alliance’s Renewed Call to Truth.) Consequently, anthropogenic warming will be minuscule and certainly not dangerous. There is simply no indication that treaty promoters have paid any attention to the developing science over the last decade.

Second, I am stunned by the blatant elitism and utter disregard for the world’s poor evident in the organizers’ blind rush to enact a treaty requiring drastic reductions in GHG emissions. The roughly 2 billion people in the world who have no electricity in their homes and therefore must burn wood and dung as their main cooking and heating fuels and do without all the other conveniences of electricity suffer terribly from their plight—debilitating and often deadly respiratory diseases, many hours every day of lost potential work time devoted to finding and carrying their fuels; absence of light for night-time study and work; lack of refrigeration to prevent food spoilage and resulting hunger and disease; stifling heat in summer and numbing cold in winter; and consequent high rates of infant and child mortality, maternal mortality, premature death, and widespread disease, all of which in turn recycle their poverty. These people desperately need electricity, and fossil fuels—the culprits blamed for most GHG emissions—are, besides nuclear, by far the cheapest way to bring it to them. It is simply impossible to achieve the GHG emission reductions the alarmists demand while bringing abundant, affordable energy to the world’s poor. But the treaty promoters seem either utterly blind or utterly unconcerned. They want their emission reductions, the poor be damned—even though the best scientific studies conclude that temperature reductions from them will be minimal. The exposure of the “Danish text,” an alternative treaty drafted secretly by negotiators from wealthy nations in the absence of those from poor nations, which would more strictly bind poorer nations’ emissions and shift power away from the UN and toward the World Bank, and to which developing nations’ leaders have reacted with thoroughly justified anger, buttresses this concern.

Third, I share the concern of many that the global enforcement structure necessary to give any emissions reduction treaty force would, because we use energy in everything we do from the most public to the most private, necessitate intolerable intrusions on privacy and restrictions on liberty for individuals, businesses, and voluntary associations, and a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of a global bureaucracy almost absolutely unaccountable to citizens of any nation. As a result, it would undermine national sovereignty. Why should that be of concern to Christians? For the same reason it was a concern to America’s Founding Fathers, who, with their strong Christian background, understood that because all men are sinners, “Power tends to corrupt,” as Lord Acton put it, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Our Founders gave us a government with separation and division of powers, checks and balances, and a federal system with a central, national government, state governments, county governments, and municipal governments, with power decentralized and citizens left with the option of leaving a jurisdiction they found intolerable and migrating to one they preferred. But where do you migrate to when the oppressive government is global? We don’t have another habitable planet to colonize.

Fourth, the mad rush to emissions reductions seems oblivious to cost/benefit considerations. The best economic analyses consistently find that the benefits to be gained from the trillions of dollars in direct spending and lost production to achieve the emissions cuts will be only a tiny fraction of the investment—i.e., it’s all pain, no gain. (See chapter 3, “The Economics of Global Warming Policy,” in the Cornwall Alliance’s Renewed Call to Truth.)

Fifth and finally, “climategate” (see next item) demands a moratorium on all climate negotiations for as long as it takes to complete a thorough investigation and accounting, by independent forensic accountants and similar experts, to assess just how much this gross misconduct undermines the already dubious case for dangerous anthropogenic warming. I anticipate a serious investigation would take at least a year, probably more. That the COP-15 organizers seem intent on forging ahead with treaty negotiations in the face of this enormous scientific scandal is profound evidence that their agendas are driven not by science but by other motives. What sorts of motives? For some, global wealth redistribution (previously justified by pointing to colonialism, or the Cold War, or Third World debt burden, and now by alleged “climate justice,” the notion that developed nations’ use of fossil fuels to build their economies has harmed developing nations, who deserve restitution—forgetting that the harms are speculative, while the increased crop yields caused by rising carbon dioxide levels, and the consequent greater abundance of food at lower prices, are a well-established fact.

One almost despairs of rational decision making at COP-15. It seems that the world is driven by ideology and the exaltation of passion over reason. The nineteenth-century writer Charles Mackay classically described the process in Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” God spoke through the Prophet Hosea (Hosea 4:6). If you’re a praying person, now’s the time to pray for a restoration of rationality.