By Tom Mullikin
An AP article on Sunday led with French President Emmanuel Macron saying “his glamorous Paris charm offensive on Donald Trump was carefully calculated — and may have changed the U.S. president’s mind about climate change.”
According to Macron, “We spoke in detail about what could allow him to return to the Paris deal.” And there is talk in some circles that Pres. Trump – though “non-committal about the U.S. eventually rejoining the climate agreement” – may indeed consider revisiting the treaty.
The world and our global health and environment needs informed leadership – not political correctness – and we have 20 years of data to review and determine the value of the flawed Paris Agreement’s equally-imperfect progenitor, the Kyoto Protocol, to the environment. What’s common among both Paris and Kyoto are that they have divided the world into developed and developing nations, and both agreements have failed to acknowledge and embrace one simple fact: there is only one atmosphere.
While the public might assume that developing nations which have largely been given a pass in these international agreements would be the likes of impoverished countries – perhaps Haiti or Ethiopia – many of these so-called developing nations are among the world’s largest economies. In fact, three major polluting nations of the top ten are given a pass including the far-and-away largest polluter, China.
On the day the Kyoto Protocol was finalized in 1997 more than 48 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions from these “developing” nations were given a pass.
As regulated industry has moved from developed nations to undeveloped countries, Earth has seen massive increase in greenhouse gases. The world has also seen the increase in emissions of other regulated pollutants like mercury. In 1997 the world’s human emissions of greenhouse gas was 36.63-billion metric tons and by 2013 (latest global data by country) that amount had increased to 48.26-billion metric tons. During this same period, China (the largest polluter of virtually every known hazardous substance) had increased its greenhouse gas emissions from 3.93-billion metric tons in 1997 to a whopping 11.42-billion metric tons in 2013. On the other hand, the U.S. had remained virtually static going from 6.16-billion metric tons in 1997 to 6.21-billion metric tons in 2013. Also, the U.S. reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by nine percent from 2005 to 2014 according to the EPA.
The U.S. greenhouse gas footprint has remained steady while bringing its economy back largely through technological advances such as the use of cleaner energy like natural gas. As industry moved to “developing nations,” America lost investments and jobs; but worse the world gained huge amounts of greenhouse gas emissions and listed pollutants. Further, the carbon intensity in China is approximately twice that of the U.S. so that when our industry moves to China for example it turns a five-million metric ton footprint for an energy intensive industry into a ten-million metric ton footprint. Thus, the significant increase in global emissions.
As these flawed international agreements have promoted the move of emissions from regulated environments to unregulated (i.e. the U.S. to China) our nation has begun to choke on the pollution of their success. For example, The American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report found a continued increase in dangerous spikes in particulate pollution is putting Americans’ health at risk, but few have discussed that China’s emissions have accounted for up to 24 percent of the sulfate, up to 11 percent of the black carbon particulate over the West Coast of the U.S.
An even greater concern is that China is the largest emitter of ambient mercury in the world with a substantial amount of this material being deposited in the western U.S.
Yes, there are some uncontroverted facts including that the climate is changing (and has throughout all of time). But there are issues to consider, such as the fact that the human contribution to global greenhouse gases (anthropogenic interference) is less than six percent – with the rest being naturally occurring gases.
Further, the U.S. represents only 12.9 percent of this manmade amount.
These facts make an informed and surgical conversation more important. The ill-conceived agreements beginning with Kyoto have not reduced emissions and may have been a contributing cause to massive increases in global emissions. We need to encourage more market-based advances and ensure that environmental sustainability is equally economically sustainable. These advances will better serve the economy and will ensure we are doing all we can to protect our global environment.
There are many reasons why the world needs to better understand and confront the challenges associated with a changing climate. But wealth redistribution by moving emissions from a regulated nation to an unregulated one does NOT improve our environment.
For decades, we have heard repeatedly that if we did not support Kyoto we did not want a clean environment and were climate deniers. The same claims are being made again with the Paris Agreement. We need an informed conversation on how we can meet the concurrent responsibilities of environmental and economic sustainability – a very achievable goal.
– Tom Mullikin is a Camden-based attorney and energy-environmental expert.