For the first time, nearly every nation has promised to stop climate change. For the moment, most countries obviously do not want to contribute anything to do so.
On Sunday night, the world’s climate was saved. At least that is how the first announcements from visibly euphoric politicians, environmental activists and reporters appeared after two weeks at the climate summit in Paris. For the first time, supposedly, rich and poor countries committed themselves to fighting climate change. That sounds good, very good even. It’s just not true, unfortunately. All of the nations in Paris did indeed sign – but, in practice, it did not carry any particular weight. The Paris agreement has too little substance in order to meet its own goal of limiting the warming of the earth to less than two degrees Celsius over the pre-industrial level. The gaps between promises and reality are enormous. There are no words about the commitment to climate protection for all.
Precisely with this nonbinding nature, the negotiators bought apparent diplomatic success in advance. Since the Copenhagen climate conference, it has been clear that from now on each country makes its own decisions as to whether, when and by how much it reduces greenhouse gas emissions. An invitation for freeloaders, observers warned. That’s not all though. This design flaw set the stage for a new type of climate activist: Countries like the U.S., which have always stalled up to now, were suddenly dancing in the first row of climate saviors in Paris. It is also thanks to the Americans that a “long-term goal” of 1.5 degrees Celsius is in the agreement. Of course, it could just as well have promised a cooling of 2 degrees, as it obviously cannot or will not fulfill its promises. To begin with, the U.S. itself is not offering enough to meet the goal that it demanded so outspokenly. Beijing has already fulfilled the vague promise of emitting less carbon dioxide by 2030 to become a climate favorite. There is no obligation to hold to this promise. The requirement of improving the offer every five years has no teeth and lets too much time elapse to really be effective.
At the same time a solution to the climate problem – at least from an economic point of view – would not be nearly so complicated. It is commonly known that not only the greenhouse gases expelled today but also, and above all, the carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution are problematic. Meanwhile, the space in this free landfill is so scarce that in a few years absolutely no more greenhouse gases can be emitted if one is to meet the two-degree mark. The existing accumulated gases could be enough to heat the earth by 1.5 degrees Celsius. It is therefore nonsense for activists to celebrate a fictional 1.5-degree Celsius goal and proclaim the “end of the fossil fuel age,” similar to what happened in Paris. There, earth still contains 15 times more cheap carbon than humanity may burn. Countries like India are not considering forgoing this just because they have simply signed a climate contract.
Economists are demanding a change of topics in climate politics: The temperature in 2050 or the number of solar power plants should not be negotiated by countries but rather they should negotiate a global price for each new ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere. A rising carbon dioxide price is considered to be the surest way to get countries to take action. Even if just the “ambitious” industrial nations were to create a carbon tax on all products, that would do more for the climate than 10 more climate conferences.
Additionally, it would be a good opportunity to end the absurdly high tax burden on employment income and, instead of that (!), establish “green” consumption taxes. Theoretically, many politicians are for this. In practice, at least in Austria, they lack the courage to tell their voters honestly: “Yes, effective climate protection is important, but it is going to cost you something.” Whoever is serious about the fight against climate change should begin every speech with this sentence. We can gladly forgo nice-sounding, apparent commitments and diplomatic activism of climate clowns.