Our approach to climate is alarmist, state-based and Mathusian.
François Hollande gave the 21st United Nations Conference on Climate Change a dramatic label. “It is late, perhaps it is too late,” he observed gravely, 80 days before the opening of a summit which aims to save both the planet and his presidency. Up to now, only 70 out of 195 States have committed themselves to reducing greenhouse gases in specific terms. Furthermore, the endowment by developed countries, from now up until 2020, of a 100-billion-dollar fund destined to help emerging countries adapt, has not yet materialzed.
Climate is a crucial issue. No one can now ignore the consequences of climate disturbances. But the failure of COP21 would not be tragic, except for François Hollande, for it is based on erroneous principles and unsuitable ways of taking action.
Attempts to forestall major risks have failed systematically. The Kyoto Protocol, adopted in 1997, fell apart when the United States refused to ratify it, then when Russia, Japan, New Zealand and Canada withdrew. The Copenhagen conference in 2009, then the ones in Cancun and Durban, ended in gridlock. The energy transition in Europe, intended to be exemplary, has been a disaster. It has resulted in an explosion of consumer prices, the degradation of industrial competitivity on the continent, the creation of a speculative bubble around renewable energies, the increase of emissions when Germany abandoned nuclear energy, and the growth of dependence on energy.
COP 21 has not learned its lesson from these setbacks, nor, on the other side of the coin, from the breakthroughs made by certain nations and by technology. The impasse in negotiations over climate derives from an approach that is alarmist, state-based and Malthusian, and which the Paris Conference proposes to institutionalize. This approach is founded on five principles. 1. The fight against climate change is principally dictated by a duty of solidarity with future generations. 2. Developed countries are responsible for climate change and emerging countries are its victims. 3. The solution involves negative growth, which means that the inhabitants of developed countries give up their way of life and those living in the southern hemisphere give up intensive development. 4. The fight against climate change is based mianly on state action and not on citizens and businesses. 5. The actions to be prioritized are taxation and regulation, with, as its keystone, the 100-billion-dollar fund agreed on in Copenhagen in 2009 and which has been in a state of limbo ever since. Now, all these principles are wrong and the fight against climate disturbance will only be effective if an opposing view is taken. Instead of stirring up fears by painting an apocalyptic picture of the next century, it would be better to mobilise ourselves to deal with difficulties in the present. That is to say, the increasing number of extreme events (tsunamis, supercyclones and typhoons, floods, droughts…) and pollution in mega-cities, notably in China and India.
It is unproductive and futile to put pressure only on developed countries at a time when emerging countries account for 52% of industrial production and China has become the main emitter of greenhouse gases.
As for state governments, they have only limited means at their disposal because of their over-indebtedness and inability to adapt to new technologies. They have been overwhelmed by the movement of companies and the birth of clean cities based on digital platforms. A perfect example of this obsolete statism is the 100-billion-dollar fund – no one knows who oversees it, what its objectives are or the reason for choosing that particular amount. Any advance towards a more qualitative growth that is more respectful of the environment will not come from more taxation or more norms, but from innovation. Our priorities should be the better use of water, improvements in agricultural yields, housing, green transport and compact cities. Does this mean that the role of state governments is reduced to zero? Certainly not. But rather than organising massive events like COP 21, whose cost is inversely proportional to its results, they should refocus their efforts around risk management and support for innovation.
Searching at all costs for a universal agreement based on burdensome commitments is not a good idea because responses have to be as diverse as the risks. Risks vary from continent to continent and nation to nation – risks of submersion, flooding and storms; the degradation of cities or soil, water access and deforestation. Consequently, the emphasis should be placed on specific national plans as prescribed by the Lima conference in 2014. Just as in the case of commerce, when the impasse in negotiations at the WTO was accompanied by an increase in bilateral treaties, the major blocs should work out environmental agreements. This path was opened by the Peking treaty, signed in 2014, which provides for a reduction of 26 to 28% in the United States’ emissions between now and 2025 and a reduction of emissions in China as from 2030. State governments must implement reforms so as to prioritize anticipation and crisis management programs, notably those linked to climate. At the same time, it is their job to create the most favorable conditions for businesses and citizens to innovate by dismantling perverse measures such as grants supporting fossil fuels; by freeing low-carbon investments and clean technologies from taxation; by supporting fracture technologies; by giving cities a free hand to experiment, for it is the cities that will house most of the world’s population.
As it stands, COP 21 is simply a ruinous and useless PR operation. It is doomed to failure because it is applying 20th century methods to the climate question – the perfect example of an issue that presents 21st century risks.