The Real Clinton Climate Plan

Hillary Clinton has a real climate change plan and a fake climate change plan. She released the fake plan earlier this week to predictably rapturous media applause for its “far-reaching” and “comprehensive” agenda. It features “ambitious” goals to increase renewable energy use in the United States and outlines other platform planks still to come on oil dependency, infrastructure, and conservation.

The plan is most obviously fake because it is not really a climate plan at all. Clinton offers no estimated reductions in carbon dioxide emissions or future temperatures, probably because her plan cannot achieve any meaningful ones. Her ultimate goal to generate 33 percent of U.S. electricity from renewable sources by 2027 would reduce global emissions by less than 2 percent annually, even if every new kilowatt-hour of renewable power managed to replace coal-fired power. That is only a fraction of the increase expected from China during the same period.

Instead of claiming any climate success, Clinton’s campaign material emphasizes health benefits from reducing air pollutants (not carbon dioxide). It promotes job creation (though job losses would be at least as large). And it promises to “make the United States the world’s clean energy superpower,” whatever that means.

The plan is most importantly fake because it obscures an actual climate plan that Clinton has no interest in discussing with voters. The real plan, simply put, is to pay for other countries to reduce their emissions through an unprecedented transfer of wealth from the developed world to the developing world. This plan emerged from the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009, at which then-Secretary Clinton pledged the United States would help create a Green Climate Fund of at least $100 billion in annual aid – a commitment comparable in scale to all existing development aid from OECD countries.

Clinton and her boss at the time, President Obama, do not like discussing such commitments in the polite company of domestic political audiences. Instead they speak of U.S. “leadership.” But diplomats on the international stage take for granted this idea that wealthy nations led by the United States will bankroll the entire cost of combatting climate change.

This is why India and China emerged from a joint summit on climate change last year with an “agreement” that included no commitments from either but “urged the developed countries to raise their pre-2020 emission reduction targets and honour their commitment to provide $100 billion per year by 2020 to developing countries.”

This is why Pope Francis’s encyclical on climate change rejected cap-and-trade systems as unfair, declared the West owes an “ecological debt,” and called for “mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources.”

And this is why the EU’s climate chief has already promised that an agreement at the climate conference in Paris this December will include a plan for delivering not only that first $100 billion per year by 2020, but also increasing amounts thereafter.

No one has defined what this means for the United States. In 2014, President Obama pledged an initial $3 billion. But a better indication of the expected scale of America’s contribution might be its 25 percent of all OECD development aid or its 41 percent of all OECD carbon dioxide emissions. In other words, tens of billions of dollars, every year, indefinitely – on top of all the costs contemplated for reducing the country’s own emissions.

Presumably, Clinton supports this approach. Inexplicably, if all too predictably, she believes she can win the White House without having to explain it to anyone. In a particular show of chutzpah, her climate fact sheet crows that she “achieved the key diplomatic breakthrough that yielded the 2009 UN Copenhagen Accord” without mentioning what that breakthrough was.

Such obfuscation may benefit Clinton’s poll numbers, but it is a doomed strategy. If she wants political capital to press the wealth transfer approach as president, she must be willing to fight for it as a candidate. The United States only wastes the world’s time and embarrasses itself by encouraging an international agreement whose lynchpin is a wealth transfer it cannot support. Signing on to an agreement, knowing it will be rejected back home, is even worse.

The silly gap in Clinton’s climate plan is the continuing no-comment on the Keystone XL pipeline. The surprising one is the absence of a price on carbon. But the dangerous one is the omission of what she actually wants to do.

Oren Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. He served as domestic policy director for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Morning Consult