October 25, 2018

Strange Agreements and Stranger Taxes: The United Nations’ Climate Drama

When I first watched “Stranger Things” (a Netflix original) in 2016, I thought the story writer was really talented and the show lived up to its name. But a real-world storyline is even stranger: the climate policies recommended to us by the United Nations.

By Vijay Jayaraj

When I first watched “Stranger Things” (a Netflix original) in 2016, I thought the story writer was really talented and the show lived up to its name. But a real-world storyline is even stranger: the climate policies recommended to us by the United Nations.

Despite its many scientific and structural failings, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the world’s most influential, though not the most credible, source of policy on climate change. No other political or scientific body has the same reach.

For over two decades, this has enabled it to persuade governments around the world to implement global climate policies that are harmful to nearly everyone in the developing world.

I live in India. We in the developing world require massive amounts of reliable, affordable energy, especially electricity, for our power-hungry industries and cities. Without it, our economic engines will stall, causing a large-scale disruption of growth and development, trapping billions in poverty and pushing hundreds of millions back into it.

The United Nations’ numerous proposals to reduce the use of all carbon dioxide emitting energy sources never boded well for the development plans of developing countries.

The call to reduce emissions appeared strange to many economists and industry analysts, as all are aware of the fact that fossil fuels were responsible for the majority of the development in the West. It makes sense that they should be also for the rest.

This is why developing countries introduced the concept of “climate justice” on the heels of the 2015 Paris climate change conference. They reasoned that it is unfair to rob developing countries from rightfully accessing fossil fuels — their major energy source. Nearly 73% of all electricity consumed by three billion people (in India and China) came from coal (2015).

To appease these top carbon dioxide emitters, the United Nations created a Green Climate Fund through which the developed world would fund the developing nations’ transition from fossil fuels to the less-reliable, more expensive renewable energy sources.

The biggest source of funds was scheduled to come from the United States, which rightly pulled out of the Paris agreement in 2017. No one in out of the UN knows who will make up for this lost source of funding.

Facing pressure from all quarters, the UN decided to take the “strangeness factor” to the next level. This past week, it came up with a new report calling for harsher punishments for those who emit carbon dioxide.

The demand? A very high carbon tax to encourage emission reduction. This is strange for several reasons.

Firstly, human use of fossil fuels is not the only source of carbon dioxide emissions. The majority comes from natural sources. To blame undesirable climate change, if any, solely on anthropogenic sources is biased and unrealistic.

Secondly, almost all major developing countries and even top developed countries like Germany and Canada have failed to meet their promised emission reduction targets.

Nations are unlikely to pay high carbon taxes to an international institution like the UN, which doesn’t even have proper compliance and co-operation from its so-called leaders. The absence of the world’s biggest economic powerhouse, the U.S., is another major excuse that will be used by developing countries not to pay the proposed taxes.

Moreover, both India and China have continued to defy their promises to reduce emissions. They, along with Russia, Australia, and the U.S., have been involved in increased coal production, use, and export in 2018.

Others, like Germany and Japan, continue to depend on coal because of their aversion to nuclear energy. Japan, especially, had a massive overhaul of its energy sector following the Fukushima incident. It has shifted its dependence from nuclear to coal.

With all the top emitters refusing to comply, the UN’s flagship Paris agreement and the newly announced taxes are just imaginary, make-shift policies that appear good only on paper. And maybe even not that. At an estimated cost of $70 trillion to $140 trillion by the end of the century, the Paris agreement would prevent at most an inconsequential 0.17˚C of warming.

The reality is that climate change is not catastrophic. National leaders know this, even if they’re too timid to say it aloud. We need some with the courage to shout out, “The emperor has no clothes!”

Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Chennai, India.

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