President Donald Trump didn’t jet off to Madrid for this week’s United Nations climateklatsch, but U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., brought a congressional delegation – and a message. “By coming here,” she proclaimed at a news conference, “we want to say to everyone: We’re still in. The United States is still in.”
A month ago, the Trump administration gave the UN its formal notice to withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Now Pelosi is saying that ... we’ll always have Paris? The House speaker is third in the presidential line of succession. Pelosi would have to impeach and remove both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence before she got the power to commit – or recommit – the U.S. to international agreements.
As a reminder, the Paris deal from the start was impotent, little more than a pep rally for bien-pensants. Countries submitted voluntary pledges to cut emissions, but without having any realistic plans in place to get there. Not that it mattered, since the accord included no enforcement mechanism.
China, which pumps out more carbon dioxide than the U.S. and European Union combined, agreed that its emissions would peak in 2030. Even that target now is in doubt, as Beijing expands coal-fired electricity. Today, China has 148 gigawatts of coal power generation “either under active construction or under suspension and likely to be revived,” according to a report last month from the nonprofit Global Energy Monitor. That is “nearly equal to the existing coal power capacity of the European Union (150 GW).”
The U.S. is moving away from coal, thanks to inexpensive natural gas from shale. CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels for electricity peaked in 2007, per data from the Environmental Protection Agency. By 2017, the latest year in the EPA’s data, emissions had dropped about 28 percent and were 5 percent lower than in 1990. Overall U.S. emissions of CO2 fell about 14 percent in a decade, yet the leading Democratic presidential contenders want to ban shale drilling for natural gas.
The problem that Pelosi and Democrats have on climate is with American voters. They can’t persuade enough of them that the cost of the solutions they’re proposing – carbon taxes, regulations that would eliminate fossil fuels, a huge expansion of government – would do all that much to change global temperatures. Even in a progressive paradise like Washington state, Democrats can’t get a carbon tax passed. The last referendum failed 57 percent to 43 percent. The time before that it was 59 percent to 41 percent.
Pelosi’s Madrid sojourn was another empty climate gesture – not counting the carbon footprint of flying to get there.