The Rhetoric of the Paris Agreement
By Pierre Lemieux
On November 4, the US government started the process of leaving the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (also called the Paris Agreement) by transmitting the formal one-year notification (“U.S. Formally Begins to Leave the Paris Climate Agreement,” NPR, November 4, 2019). A Wall Street Journal report (“U.S. Starts Process to Exit Paris Climate Agreement,” November 4, 2019) alluded to the official reason:
The U.S. has officially started the process of exiting the Paris climate agreement, citing an unfair economic burden posed on American workers and businesses, the State Department said Monday.
Leaving this agreement is a good idea, but for other reasons than that one.
As I confessed before, I am rather agnostic on climate change or, as it was previously called, global warming. If disastrous climate change is happening with some reasonable probability, protection against it might be considered a public good—such as, for example, protection against asteroids. Yet, individual liberty should not be sacrificed to such an enterprise. This approach is not very different from Tyler Cowen’s in his book Stubborn Attachments (which I reviewed in Regulation).
One good reason why the Paris Agreement deserves being denounced lies in its rhetoric. The text is a good example of the politically correct nonsense that the reigning establishment has been imposing on us for too long. A few quotes from the preamble of the Agreement illustrate this:
Acknowledging … [the Parties’] respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity …
Noting the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including oceans, and the protection of biodiversity, recognized by some cultures as Mother Earth, and noting the importance for some of the concept of “climate justice”, when taking action to address climate change …
Similar balderdash pops up elsewhere in the Agreement text:
Parties recognize the importance of integrated, holistic and balanced non-market approaches being available to Parties to assist in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions … A framework for non-market approaches to sustainable development is hereby defined to promote the non-market approaches referred to in paragraph 8 of this Article. …
Parties acknowledge that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems, and should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.
The rights of everybody to everything except to individual liberty, repeated and unscientific incantations such as “climate justice” as a code word for social justice, the invocation of “Mother Earth” and holism simultaneously with “the best available science”—some may discount all that nonsense as mere words. But it is with this sort of linguistic jostle that ideals antithetical to individual liberty have been, and are being, stealthily imposed on us by politicians, bureaucrats, and their favorite supporters.
If the hypothesis of climate change has any validity and if its protection represents a public good in the economic sense, the production of which would involve trade-offs, it should be possible to explain the matter in a rational way with precise concepts. It should be possible to define the conditions for general consent in a free society. The Paris Agreement does not reflect this approach.
An interesting question is how, more generally, from “social justice” to “climate justice,” to “sustainable” this or “inclusive” that, or for that matter to “fair trade” (another meaningless slogan), the collectivist establishment is able to control language and rhetoric so efficiently. Government subsidization of education, especially higher education, is likely one of the factors. The effects have been identified by Friedrich Hayek. In The Fatal Conceit, he wrote:
So long as we speak in language based in erroneous theory, we generate and perpetuate error.