In 2014, the world's top polluter, China, told the United States president they unequivocally  would not even discuss emissions caps or targets until 2030 and American speechwriters quickly tried to spin that into a positive. China had never even agreed on a future date before, they rationalized, so that was progress.

Well, not really, but it was as much as almost everyone else was going to do under the Paris Climate Agreement.

Despite any real commitments from exempt countries, like the world's largest polluter, China, that will cause a 48 percent increase in energy consumption by 2040, the next year western governments jammed through the Paris Agreement, but it was more "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" than science. Commitments were arbitrary, the methodology was opaque, and no one believed the policies would result in a 2 degree cap.(1)

The argument was we have to do something. And the US does. We are even told we must agonize over washing our clothes. Well, the New York Times mostly wants you to change your behavior, they are have a highly popular fashion section so not washing is just for we plebians.

Washing clothes less is a meaningless gesture, an intellectual placebo for the kind of people who make herbal potions because they need to do something for their cold and then insist it works because the cold went away in three days. That cold was going away regardless.

The space travel analogy

Because no one is against space travel, especially just after the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing, in talks I often use a space example. If we decide we want to travel to Alpha Centauri, and can get a ship there in 100 years, some will argue we should do it. (2) Others might argue that instead of rushing to subsidize aerospace companies today we should instead fund more basic research. If things work out as science often does, in 80 years we will be able to create a ship that would overtake anything that would've been sent in 2019 - and probably for a fraction of the cost and risk. Sometimes investing in science instead of subsidizing existing technology gets you where you want to go faster, even if it means waiting.(3)

What isn't constructive is for people to claim that if you don't think it's a great idea to send a ship now rather than a faster one later, you hate space travel and deny astronomy. And it is downright terrible for science acceptance if pundits declare an entire political party hates space travel if they don't agree to send one now. When those kinds of partisan narratives are used, the public begins to distrust everyone in science.

That gets us to the problem with the Paris Climate Agreement. No one really thought it was going to help, instead we got 'we have to do something' rationale, and if you didn't agree you were a global warming denier.

The Paris Agreement was gushed over by some journalists and by people engaging in political theater and even by scientists who said doing something that won't succeed is better than doing nothing. But unlike a ship to Alpha Centauri, where there is no way to know, a climate agreement has milestones that can already be analyzed. 

And objective analysis shows that complaining about the U.S. not doing it is meaningless. It was not going to work anyway, because we are still doing our part while most of the world is only pretending.


The reason it was never going to work is because it is toothless.  Not because of enforcement, I believe governments who signed on fully mean to honor their commitments. But the really bad pollution actors are not capping emissions, they can just claim they are because of the way the Paris Agreement was structured.  We didn't need to sign it at all. In 2017 we met the emissions targets that would have been required under the never-enacted Clean Power Plan by 2025, without any government involvement.  Our overall emissions will plummet just as much as we would've agreed to under the plan.

Historical and projected CO2 emissions from the U.S. power sector in relation to natural gas prices (as delivered to electric generators). Projected emissions and gas prices are national averages based on scenarios in the AEO 2017 for the reference case and the high oil and gas resource and technology case. Source.

The decline in energy emissions was due to natural gas replacing coal. Coal that had become increasingly essential because US environmentalists had gotten nuclear energy in the US officially killed during the Clinton administration but had really been blocking it far longer. The same groups who now insist we are terrible human beings for not agreeing to the Paris agenda.

Meanwhile they all ignore a superpower, China, letting it hide behind "emerging nation" status for the simple reason that they are afraid of China. You don't have to be embarrassed when a country tells you to kick rocks about emissions if you never ask them to stop polluting the world.

But China could have signed onto it because the agreement is meaningless.  So meaningless we could've did what Russia did and pick a target year in the 1990s, when our coal emissions were at runaway levels, and claimed to be climate heroes when they dropped.

Here's why everyone is fooling themselves about what the agreement is really accomplishing.

Absolute emission reduction targets  - but self-chosen by each country

Imagine you state to the world's journalists that you are going to create an absolute emissions reduction target - no exceptions, it's for the planet - but leave out the fine print that the absolute emission reductions are for a target year in percentage terms relative to a historic base year. And that the base year is chosen by each country and can be anywhere between 1990 to 2014, while the target year will be 2030.(4) Life is easy, as Russia has shown, because emissions can go up while they claim to be honoring the Paris Agreement.

Maybe you'd like to choose a 'Business As Usual reduction' target instead

If you don't have a good high emissions year between 1990 and 2014 to choose as your target for reduction, countries could instead opt for a 'business as usual´ reduction - a percentage reduction in emissions compared to if they just did things the same old way until 2030. 

Since governments got to pick their own 'business as usual' emissions out to 2030, this is an easy one. And it's no surprise that various models show a huge range of emissions growth, all while countries doing this claim they are doing their part. Pakistan, for example, will see emissions rise nearly 200 percent while meeting their Paris Agreement commitment of reduction.

Don't like either of those? The Paris Agreement allows GDP emission intensity reductions 

If creating models of pretend emissions if nothing changed is too much work, and you had rather low base years for targets between 1990 and 2014, you could instead opt to create a reduction in emissions per GDP. Again relative to a base year. So if your country had heavy industry or manufactured products that were cheap cost in the past, you could pick a base year, and then you wouldn't have to change a thing about actual pollution. As long as you made more money, your emissions per GDP went down and you did your part. India has emissions skyrocketing so much, real smog and not American virtual PM2.5 hoopie, they have to close schools. But they are actually on pace to meet their Paris Agreement commitment.

Finally, inconvenient emissions belching can simply be exempt from emission targets

The Paris Agreement wanted to be really inclusive so they provided a safe way to avoid the pesky intrusiveness of actually doing anything. Countries can give projects that do not even bother to include the pretense of a nationally determined contribution to greenhouse emissions a pass, by saying they do not have an explicit greenhouse gas emission target.

Russia and India are giant polluters but can claim to be doing their part 

Russia, which will agree to anything the world wants as long as Europe pretends the energy it buys from them does not cause emissions and its food is all organic, happily agreed to emissions reductions based on their hand-picked base year. If you know anything about the collapse of the USSR you know that 1990 was a great year for them to choose, because the country had been stunted for decades by then (the same reason Germany likes to include East Germany in its old totals to show how much "better" they are now). Meanwhile, Australia chose 2005. Yet though both agreed to the same reduction percentage, in real numbers Australia has gone down since 2015, 9 percent, while Russia has actually gone up 13 percent - but claiming they are meeting their Paris Agreement target. Well, they are, because they got to create their own.

India also chose percentage reductions based on a base year, but they chose relative to emissions per GDP. Since they made their own GDP projection they said they will have a 173 percent increase in that over 2014 but in real terms they will also have emissions growth of 229 percent over 2015. And they and China already account for a third of the world's air pollution. Yet because emissions relative to GDP are lower, India is honoring the Paris Agreement.

If we look at smaller countries that took advantage of the 'Business As Usual Reduction' option, Pakistan says it will reduce emissions by 20 percent compared to what they say they would have done otherwise, but in real terms, they go up 182 percent while Mexico, which used the same target, is down 11 percent. Both are honoring their Paris Agreement commitments but only one is helping anything.

Under the Paris Agreement, everyone can claim to do their part while only the regions that were mitigating anyway don't exploit the system that was created so it would look like their was worldwide agreement. In order to get everyone to sign on, they gave almost everyone an easy out.

In real terms, not bogus Paris Agreement commitment virtual terms, emissions will continue to go up whether the US participates or not, because the EU and the US are reducing emissions anyway while much of the world is not. People can make political theater about the US formally leaving the Paris agreement, but it was never making a difference. We are on pace to meet our target regardless of which President is in the White House. All government has to do is stay out of the way.


(1)  Yet the U.S. was criticized for not engaging in hypocrisy and instead stating that we could meet targets without mitigation, penalties on unpopular energy sources, or rationing. This turned out to be true. 

(2) People on the fence about solutions to the emissions issues we face are going to either no longer trust journalists who claim to be "science", they won't trust the BBC, or won't trust the science this guy cherry-picks when claims like this are thrown out there.

(3)   But let me ask, whether you are running a business or a university lab; do you agree doing doing the wrong thing is better than doing nothing?

When you get a grant, you want the experiment you are tackling to succeed, but if it fails you learned something important also, and that is at least a case to make when it comes to government committee time. In no case should you do nothing at all and watch money disappear in salaries.

The risk in waiting until you are more sure the experiment will succeed is that money may not be available then.


The Kyoto Protocol famously did this same thing. The target date was pushed through by France and Germany and conveniently picked a target date that included, in Germany's case, emissions from a whole lot of Soviet East German factories, while in France it was prior to their latest nuclear plant. Literally all Germany had to do was replace 1950s USSR factories and they met their target. France didn't need to do anything. Meanwhile, since activists had gotten a ban on nuclear science, and natural gas prior to fracking was too expensive, we had switched to more coal. Environmentalists caused the American spike in emissions that fracking would later solve. Then they protested fracking too.

The U.S. knew their methodology was a joke in 1999 but President Clinton didn't want to look like he didn't care, so he "agreed" to the treaty knowing full well that U.S. Presidents can't do that. He never bothered to submit it to the Senate for ratification, and then blamed Republicans.