Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that it’s as typical for us news/policy bloggers as it is for journalists to start the day expecting to write on a certain topic only to change course abruptly upon encountering a development that SIMPLY CAN’T WAIT.

Especially with a big U.S.-organized global summit on climate change set for later this week, that’s the category into which I’d place this new Bloomberg.com post titled “Biden Wants the U.S. to Lead on Climate Action, But the World Needs Proof.” And if the header didn’t make the portrayal of the United States as a preachy climate change hypocrite clear enough, the subhead informs readers that “after policy reversals and years of inaction, the country has a wide credibility gap to overcome.”

Predictably, moreover, authors place all the blame on you-know-who:

The Biden administration [will] have to overcome the major trust deficit run up by former President Donald Trump, who withdrew from the Paris agreement and dismantled domestic policies key to driving the the country’s promised emissions cuts. The past four years revealed how tenuous pledges of U.S government action can be.” {Note:  This Associated Press report made much the same point.] 

Whatever you think about the merits of the issue, there’s no question that climate change wasn’t exactly a Trump priority, that he weakened (but did not eliminate entirely) important Obama-era regulations aimed at slowing it, and ran a very fossil-fuel-friendly administration. Moreover, the former President displayed no interest whatever in meeting, much less beating, the Paris agreement goals set by Barack Obama’s presidency.

But is that the real measure of U.S. credibility on climate change? Only if you believe that words matter more than deeds. For the latest available (2018) data show that, by two key measures, America has actually done a better job  restraining greenhouse gas emissions than many of the main Paris accord signatories.

If the chart below looks familiar, it’s because I used it in a post near the beginning of last year

But it’s as important as ever. Because it shows that, on an absolute basis (the left half of the chart), U.S. emissions dipped slightly in 2009, and then stayed basically flat since (including in Trump years 2017 and 2018). That’s actually better than it sounds, however, because the US economy grew the entire time, meaning that more economic activity didn’t lead to more emissions. And growth picked up a fair amount during those Trump years.

As for other Paris signatory countries, China’s rapid growth has only slowed – but the Chinese economy has slowed, too, so that doesn’t necessarily signal any carbon efficiency gains.   

Emissions from 28 of the European Union (EU) countries, began falling in absolute terms in 1990, and have consistently been lower than America’s. (Earlier results aren’t presented.) But the EU’s economic growth also has been considerably lower than America’s throughout this period, so lower emissions no doubt are mainly due to that steady fall in overall economic activity. (You can compare the growth rates of any countries or groups of countries by playing around with this interactive feature on the World Bank’s website.)   

On a per capita basis (he right half of the chart), we see major U.S. progress since about 2000, and it’s continued with minor fluctuations through 2018 (an especially good US economic growth year).  In fact, the United States has performed better than the world as a whole since 1990.   

EU 28 progress on a per capita basis has been slower than the US’, but better than the world’s as a whole.  And China’s per capita emissions soared till about 2010, before starting to level off.

Does the chart show that the United States is doing enough to mitigate climate change? Nope. Does it mean that lots of skepticism isn’t justified about President Biden’s ability to turn his climate change agenda into U.S. policy? Of course not.

But it does make clear that it’s simply off the wall to claim that Mr. Biden will be chairing his own climate change conference, and participating in a United Nations conference this November, as head of a country with a climate credibility gap, or anything climate-y to feel sheepish about. Indeed, pushing that line can only undercut the President’s message, and do far more to retard climate progress, not spur it.