Climate of Fear XXV.

            In a world organized into competing nation-states, transnational problems can be difficult to resolve.[1]  On some level, all governments depend upon the consent of the governed.  Even autocratic governments endowed with powerful “My own security forces” can find themselves in an awkward spot when mass dissent bubbles up.  So preserving and enhancing the national welfare is a common goal of national governments.  Climate diplomacy illustrates this principle. 

            In 2015, the United Nations-sponsored Paris Climate Accord created a “Green Climate Fund.”  The Fund’s goal was to have Developed economies pay $100 billion a year to help Developing economies deal with the effects of climate change and make the shift away from fossil fuels.[2]  President Barack Obama pledged the United States to contribute $3 billion to the fund and did transfer $1 billion before the end of his term. 

            The United States signed the Paris Climate Accord as an Executive Agreement, not as a legally binding treaty.  He did so because treaty ratification requires a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate.  President Obama knew that he could not win ratification.  Hence, no subsequent government, Republican or Democratic, had any legal obligation to fulfill its terms.[3]  Many Americans–chiefly Republicans, but also many Democrats—feel no obligation to pay “climate reparations.”[4]  President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Accords with the United States having met only 5 percent of what it should have donated under the 2015 agreement.  President Joe Biden rejoined the Paris Accords, pledging to give $11.4 billion a year by 2024.  A Democrat-controlled Congress agreed to provide $1 billion.[5] 

            Foreign leaders, and not just kleptocrats eager to get their snout in the trough, find American obeisance to voters frustrating.  French President Emmanuel Macron complained that “Europeans are paying; we are the only ones paying.”  UN climate official Nicholas Topping insisted that the election cycle should have no bearing on international commitments.  Meanwhile, major carbon-consumers China, Russia, and India skipped the conference in Egypt. 

            To take another angle, oil reserves are what might be thought of as a limited or unsustainable asset.  As they get used up, more is not created.  For owners of oil reserves, the question becomes one of how to maximize the value derived from the asset.  For example, Saudi Arabia possesses about a century’s worth of oil.  If people are going to go on burning carbon for energy for a century, then Saudi Arabia’s interest could lie in supporting a stable global oil market with prices low enough to prevent a shift to alternative energy sources.  If people are going to stop burning carbon by, say, 2050, then Saudi Arabia’s interest could lie in getting as high a price as possible for oil right now and in the near future.[6]  That could be achieved by reducing the amount of oil being pumped out of the ground in order to keep prices high.[7] 

            History is full of conflicts between Cosmopolitanism and Parochialism.  This is one. 

[1] See: The origins of the First and Second World Wars. 

[2] See: Green Climate Fund – Wikipedia 

[3] The nuclear agreement with Iran took the same form for the same reason and met the same fate. 

[4] For parallels, see: World War I reparations – Wikipedia and War Debt Issue ( 

[5] Lisa Friedman, “Biden Will Face a World Demanding Reparations,” NYT, 11 November 2022. 

[6] Walter Russell Mead, “The Quagmire of Climate Diplomacy,” WSJ, 11 October 2022. 

[7] If that coldly rational strategy has the added benefit of sticking a thumb in the eye of foreign critics of Saudi Arabia’s ruler, all the better. 


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