Thursday, November 13, 2014

U.S.-China climate … thing

A lot of our political discourse seems to be people playing their predictable roles without expending much thought. The debate about the U.S.-China climate announcement is a case in point. Democrats are hyping it. Republicans are denouncing it (seeing it as part of a "war on coal."). Neither side has much incentive to notice the considerable limitations on its significance; which are, however, sketched out in a post by Jack Goldsmith, a law professor. Excerpt (with emphases from original):
Here the two sides do not promise to, or state that they will, reduce emissions by a certain amount. Rather, they state only that they intend to achieve emissions reductions and to make best efforts in so doing. Whether and how the goals expressed in these intentions will be reached is left unaddressed, and one nation’s intention is not in any way tied to the other’s. Nor would it be a violation of the “announcement” if either side’s best efforts fail to achieve the intended targets. As we have seen with a lot with climate change aspirations, intentions are easy to state, and they change over time. The key point is that this document in no way locks in the current intentions. In fact it creates no obligations whatsoever, not even soft ones (except that, in a different place, both sides “commit” to “reaching an ambitious … agreement” next year, an empty commitment). It is no accident that the document is called an “announcement” and not a treaty or pledge or even an agreement.
Me: I've long thought some kind of U.S.-China arrangement could be important, given the centrality of those two nations to carbon emissions and international trade, and given how hard it is to get any kind of multilateral agreement. But still, what's been achieved here is nothing remotely like, say, a bilateral agreement to put a price on carbon emissions (not surprisingly, as something like that would require legislation on the U.S. side, however much it might be imposed by fiat in China). The back-and-forth over this deal (which Goldsmith plausibly puts in quotes: "deal") is more about people displaying their ideological identities than anyone actually having much reason to exult or despair.

UPDATE: A different take, from Christopher Flavelle: "Obama Outmaneuvers Republicans on Climate Change."

UPDATE 2: Tyler Cowen: "The announced deal is little more than a well-timed, well-orchestrated press release."

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