Michael Levi, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, recently made a fair point in the Washington Post about the U.S.-China climate deal that I want to recognize. While conceding that the hype surrounding the deal amounts to “hyperbolic congratulations (‘game-changer‘, ‘historical‘, ‘this century’s most significant agreement‘),” he goes on to insist that:
It is also wrong to fix narrowly on the two-degree benchmark. It is a laudable goal, and one that is technically achievable, but by most honest reckonings, is politically implausible. And the difference between other amounts of warming – say between two degrees and three and four – could be dramatic. An agreement that cuts emissions is worthwhile even if it doesn’t deliver the two degree goal.
To be sure, none of this makes the deal the “gamechanger” that some people have heralded, or means that it will “save the world” as others have claimed. Critics and enthusiasts of climate diplomacy alike focus too much on super-high standards when assessing climate agreements. Supporters have wrongly obsessed with achieving a comprehensive global climate treaty, and their opponents have gloated when attempts to negotiate such an agreement have inevitably failed. (A corollary: Those who welcomed the U.S.-China announcement primarily as a sign that a big global treaty might be possible next year are missing its main point.) Just as Cold War arms control never eliminated the risk of nuclear war, even as it substantially reduced nuclear dangers, so climate diplomacy can help the world by reducing the risks of global warming, even as it never rids the planet of them. That’s the right standard by which to judge the big U.S.-China climate announcement – and, by that measure, the deal is a genuine success.
Again, fair point…