During his campaign, President Joe Biden made few promises. But one of them was that he would re-enter the Paris Agreement on climate on his first day in office, which he did. How will this affect the United States, and will it even matter?
If the American people knew how the agreement was drafted, there likely would be bipartisan consensus that it is beneficial to neither the United States nor the climate. When the document was prepared, each participant country submitted a proposal outlining to what it could commit. In practice, this meant that Western nations took the task of reducing emissions seriously while all other countries proposed business as usual for themselves.
Since most of the world’s carbon emissions come from non-Western countries, mainly China, the result is a treaty that many agree will have barely measurable effects on the climate. Even among the true believers in catastrophic anthropogenic climate change, the consensus is that the Paris Agreement is only a tiny “first step.”
At the end of the 1990s, the clean coal lobby in the United States warned about China’s development. They predicted that, on average, China would build a new 500-megawatt coal power plant every week for the next 20 years. The prediction was proven correct. Unlike those using American technology, the Chinese coal plants were dirty and had low efficiency, creating smog and massive pollution locally and contributing starkly to global carbon emissions.
It is useful to compare with solar power to understand the scale of this. One such power plant would require nearly 13 square miles of state-of-the-art solar power equipment. It means that every six months, an area the size of New York City is needed. To merely offset China’s new coal plants since 2000, the state of Maryland would have to be covered in solar panels.
China’s breathtaking pace of building coal power plants continues unabated. In 2020 alone, China added 38,400 MW of coal power capacity. In the Paris Agreement, the communist country promised to expand at the same pace until 2030. It might as well have been called the Beijing Agreement.
Meanwhile, under former President Donald Trump’s leadership, the United States surpassed the Paris Agreement with the fracking revolution. So much coal power has been replaced with natural gas that America is the world champion in carbon emission reductions. It was achieved while making the United States energy independent for the first time in nearly a century.
The reductions were so impressive that the United Nations reports the United States has achieved the Paris Agreement’s goals without participation. It proves that the document is more a piece of paper than an effective treaty.
Biden can continue this trend by merely allowing the fracking revolution to continue. However, whether he will do so or give in to special green interests remains to be seen. In either case, America’s reductions will be more than gobbled up by a coal-hungry China. No matter what the United States does, China and other developing nations will determine the trajectory of human carbon emissions.
Read more from Caroline Adana.