I wanted to write an article about whether the United States had a chance at living up to its former obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement, even though it had withdrawn from the treaty. In order to do that, I felt that I needed to read the treaty.
Luckily, it’s easy to find on the United Nations’ Website. I was relieved to see that the full text, which can be found here, was only 27 pages long.
So, here’s the deal. I had some vague notions about why joining the Paris Agreement might be a bad idea from when I previously did some research about the motivation for withdrawal.
Going in, I knew that it might be a bad deal for America because it involved transferring a lot of money to third-world countries, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it should be noted that we already give around $42 Billion in foreign aid each year.
I had also heard that it didn’t have an enforcement clause, meaning that if a country didn’t live up to its specific obligations, well, nothing would happen. There was no penalty for not adhering to the agreement, which made the whole thing seem like an exercise in self-aggrandizement to me. Just a bunch of politicians signing a piece of paper that speaks to all the good things they might do.
But after opening the Paris Agreement and starting to read it for myself, I realized I have a third reason for being glad that the U.S. isn’t a part of it.
It was written by crazy people.
I know what you’re thinking.
Who is this guy, thinking that he can tell a bunch of experts on climate change that they’re crazy?
I may not be an expert on solving climate change, but gosh-darn, even as a layperson I can tell that there’s stuff in this agreement that just plain doesn’t belong.
Like in the preamble, which reads in part “Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth. . .” emphasis mine.1
Why is that in there? I thought, you know, that we might use science and technology to address climate change, since, you know, science is good at that sort of thing.
If I had known that I was supposed to pray for an end to climate change, I would have started a long time ago. Who knows what progress we would have made by now?
I can only imagine how this phrase got added to the document.
A couple of bureaucrats were standing at the printer, where they were producing the final document. An intern runs up and says, “Hey, you forgot to reference Mother Earth.”
The two men facepalm, and one says to the intern, “Good catch. No official U.N. document is complete without an irrelevant and nonsensical shoutout to Mother Nature!”
Or later in the document, when they state that “adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach . . . based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems . . .”2
Once again, I’m completely baffled.
Is climate change somehow fundamentally related to gender? I’m not so sure that it is, but maybe I’m wrong. Maybe men cause climate change and women tend to suck carbon right out of the air.
This is a huge issue, as it means that implementation has to take gender into account, which, to put it mildly, complicates things. On the other hand, we’re not even obligated to use real science to advance the goal of ending climate change. Apparently, “traditional knowledge,” whatever that is, is fair game. Once again, science seems to be totally optional.
Later, the confused authors write, “areas of cooperation and facilitation to enhance understanding, action and support may include . . . [n]on-economic losses.”3 At first, I puzzled over what a “non-economic loss” was, initially thinking that it might be hurt feelings. I then googled the term as I couldn’t fathom that being correct.
As it turns out, that was exactly correct. It’s the equivalent of suing for emotional damages in addition to medical expenses after a bad crash.
The U.N. is literally promoting “action and support” for people whose feelings are hurt by climate change.
I’m stuttering in real life as I try to write this sentence. The concept is so utterly asinine that I’m not sure I can make a joke out of it.
Article 27 states that “[n]o reservations may be made to this Agreement,” which is ironic, as I’m coming away with nothing but reservations.
If you haven’t caught on already, I’m poking fun at the document. But after reading it in its entirety, I want to point out something that struck me while I read.
The entire agreement is incredibly vague. Sure, they do a good job of laying out their goals and talking about the various philosophical and moral approaches that they want to take in solving the problem, but don’t really describe a way in which the problem will be solved.
Sure, they do suggest that rich countries will be obligated to cut their carbon emissions, and suggest that advances in technology might have a role to play, but really, they leave that path pretty open-ended.
On the other hand, they’re really firm in their belief that rich countries should give money to poor countries to . . . help them develop economically and also in a sustainable way? These are sometimes mutually-exclusive goals. And, they go beyond that, stating that rich countries might be held liable to poor counties in the event that climate change causes harm, a precedent that could turn quite scary.
Overall, this document doesn’t seem to do quite what its proponents claim it does, mostly because it commits the cardinal sin of treaties: it’s a framework without a frame.