Faux Globalism Benefits No One

October 5, 2019

Americans may not have noticed, but last week was a bad one for large, international bureaucracies. These multinational agencies, known as international governmental organizations (IGOs), often devise onerous, poorly thought-out policies based on the whims of member-states, often without any evidence. And they almost always rely on taxpayer funding to advance their undemocratic agendas.  But if last week’s United Nations proceedings were any indication, member-states are beginning to question the strict guidelines promulgated by these organizations in favor of freer, more dynamic policies. The demise of faux globalism will benefit billions of people and allow countries to interact and trade with one another without nonsensical restrictions.

Starting on Monday, September 23, commuters across Washington, DC found their drives annoyingly delayed by throngs of climate protesters blocking the streets. This phenomenon quickly spread to other cities throughout the world, and these systematic disruptions were no random occurrence. The protests served to amplify the United Nations Climate Action Summit, spearheaded by the likes of adolescent Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Rhetoric was certainly sharp at the summit, as Thunberg accused global leaders of stealing her dreams and childhood. But these words, coupled with all the protests in the world, couldn’t avoid a simple fact: “green” global governance just doesn’t have the teeth that it used to. The United States now gives no pretense of supporting the aims of the summit, while India and China are plainly uninterested in U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres’ unattainable goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Contra dire pronouncements in the media, this is a good thing. Under the previous, approach of creating multi-billion dollar international climate agreements, countries such as the U.S. are slapped with hefty “renewable” mandates that would significantly raise prices for consumers and necessitate trillions of dollars in energy research funding (which has an exceedingly poor track record). Meanwhile, chief polluters such as China get away with building more coal-fired power plants stealthily paring back their already-modest commitments. As a part of the 2016 Paris Agreement, for instance, China pledged to level off its carbon emissions by 2030 – something the U.S. managed to do around a decade prior. The Asian tiger seemed poised to do that via a “strict” nationwide emissions trading program, which keeps getting delayed and reduced in scope.

First announced in 2013, the trading program has been pushed back to 2020 and will only cover the power sector. As China fiddled and markedly increased emissions, the U.S. bound itself to decrease emissions even more than it had already been doing over the previous ten years. Then-President Obama and Congress significantly expanded the Electric Vehicle (EV) tax credit, continually hiked fuel economy standards, and bolstered spending into alternative energy sources.

The end result was a massive production ramp up of electric cars, which pose their own unique set of environmental hazards. Extracting the minerals required for electric batteries creates rampant pollution and work hazards for everybody involved. The Washington Post reports, “[M]ining activity exposes local communities to levels of toxic metals that appear to be linked to ailments that include breathing problems and birth defects, health officials say.” The World Economic Forum concurs: “raw materials needed for batteries are extracted at a high human and environmental toll. This includes, for example, child labour, health and safety hazards in informal work, poverty and pollution.”

Even if these drastic U.S. policy measures reduced emissions on paper, these policy moves were largely unilateral and translated to little global progress. It’s for the best, then, that countries are largely ignoring the U.N. and their increasingly unrealistic climate targets. Large reductions in pollution tend to happen as economic freedom increases, and businesses have the resources required to invest in large-scale efficiency improvements. That’s a huge factor behind U.S. carbon emissions declining by 10 percent since 2005, regardless of constantly-changing political leadership. Perhaps if China continues to grow, it too will soon have the resources required to change course on their messy state-backed coal apparatus. But this could only come about through internal change and external encouragement. Along the way, free trade and tariff reductions couldn’t hurt. But faux cooperation through unrealistic agreements will only further erode the legitimacy of the U.N. and set the world up for failure.

Ross Marchand is a Catalyst Policy Fellow and the director of policy for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance. He focuses on a range of issues, ranging from health-care reform to internet regulation to Postal Service-related issues. Ross is an alumnus of the Mercatus Center MA Fellowship at George Mason University, where he received his MA in economics in 2016. He has interned for the Texas Public Policy Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, analyzing and blogging on a variety of public policy issues.
Catalyst articles by Ross Marchand