Opinion

Another ‘historic’ climate breakthrough

Christopher Horner Senior Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute

As predicted, because it is by now absurdly ritual, early the day after the scheduled conclusion of this year’s talks to replace the expiring Kyoto Protocol, negotiators emerged hailing a breakthrough agreement on “global warming.” The Washington Post offers its take which, although it provides no word whether I won the CEI office pool on the number of European diplomats crying (the “over/under” was five), nonetheless opens risibly:

CANCUN, MEXICO – Delegates from 193 nations agreed Saturday on a new global framework to help developing countries curb their carbon output and cope with the effects of climate change, but they postponed the harder question of precisely how industrialized and major emerging economies will share the task of making deeper greenhouse-gas emission cuts in the coming decade.

Seventeen paragraphs later it was clear that this amusing effort to proclaim a pony under that pile — a “framework!” — really meant that the framework for a new agreement was reached, with details as to what constitutes that actual framework to be worked out later. It was an historic agreement to meet again next year. Again.

Do not be impatient with these people. What was actually agreed to in December 1997 in the far more detail-heavy Kyoto Protocol, and which we were to ratify as a binding treaty, actually was not determined until the December 2005 meeting in Montreal (my last physical foray into this annual idiocy). Which is why we shouldn’t commit to any future binding agreements: they’re blank checks. The U.S. is granted a vote equal to that of Burkina Faso, Cuba or any one of the ‘Stans. Committing ensures merely that we will be informed at the appropriate time, when it is decided by all of our friends in the UN community, what it was that we agreed to.

This announcement in an official press release was typical:

Ambassador Patricia Espinosa Cantellano emphasized that the time to reach a definitve [sic] agreement is about to run out, and then she received a standing ovation from the delegates.

You may also remember how it was only one year ago that we were told the world had mere days to save itself in Copenhagen, in the form of a new treaty to replace Kyoto when its clock runs out at the end of 2012. No such agreement was struck, so this year they decided to holster some of the hysteria and see if it helped. Not so much.

This year mimicked last year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed whatever it is that was the Cancun Agreement as “meaningful progress.” Which, as good luck has it, is the same phrase the Obama administration used to describe Copenhagen, more candidly acknowledged by Euro-diplomats in private as a “disaster.”

So we see this fourteenth historic global warming agreement to meet again later rolled out with by-now customary fanfare. Some usual suspects couldn’t contain themselves, recycling the headline-in-waiting trotted out for a decade by breathless Kyoto advocates everywhere, hailing Cancun as an historic breakthrough. And just what did this rather light-on-the-details breakthrough break through? Why, the lingering despair from last year’s historic breakthrough: “With this agreement, you have broken out of the inertia and feeling of hopelessness,” Mexican President Felipe Calderon told the exhausted ministers and negotiators. “Confidence is back. Hope has returned.” Sigh.

Yet it wouldn’t be a United Nations event without creating a problem for the U.S. despite a paucity of details. It is a problem the administration had kindly telegraphed in advance.

Here is the official declaration. As Sovereignty International recast the first bullet point:

President Obama’s commitment in Copenhagen last year to reduce greenhouse gases by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 is now officially recognized by the U.N. The U.S. is to create a low-carbon development plan and strategy, and assess how they plan to meet them, including through market mechanisms, then to report their inventories annually to the U.N. It is incredulous for the U.N. to demand that a sovereign nation pass laws to fit the U.N.’s political agenda, but that is essentially what they did! In light of the November 2nd elections, “cap & trade/tax” legislation that would destroy the American economy while having a negligible impact on the environment, is unlikely to pass. But we must remain vigilant concerning the president’s abuse of Executive Orders and the Environmental Protection Agency to implement the unscientific radical environmental agenda.

This outcome is not entirely clear from the administration’s own statement, yet in practice it is nonetheless inescapable that the Obama administration has committed the U.S. politically to that which it now dares the elected representatives in Congress to refuse to commit us to legally.

The Obama administration put its posse ahead of the U.S.’s interests, to the actual, certain diplomatic detriment of the country down the road. It made the same mistake that Clinton’s administration made by politically committing us to Kyoto, knowing that the Senate would not formally commit us to it. And for years we dealt with the fallout, falsely laid at the feet of George W. Bush. Wash, rinse, repeat.

As late as the Copenhagen conference last year, Obamaphiles were insisting that the new sheriff in town had learned from this mistake and would not repeat it. Until he did, that is.

Doing a heckuva job there, Barry.

Christopher C. Horner is a senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.