The American approach to climate change is actually working

By Drew Johnson

Speaking at the United Nations in December, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi drew cheers by saying the United States was “still in” the Paris Climate Agreement.

Green activists applauded Pelosi’s defense of the international climate accord, which President Trump has vowed to exit. They claim remaining in the Paris Agreement will help reduce global emissions. But they’re wrong.

European leaders have spent years trying — and failing — to solve the climate crisis with regulation. Whether intentionally or not, U.S. policymakers have mostly avoided top-down solutions, and counterintuitively, the United States now leads the developed world in reducing carbon emissions.

Policymakers can learn an important lesson from this comparison. The key to fighting climate change is to unleash the power of the free market, not to embrace every green idea.

European countries have not had much success using regulation to fight climate change. Germany recently spent 150 billion euro on an aggressive campaign to lower emissions by mandating across-the-board fossil fuel reductions.

In its quest for renewable energy, Germany refused to embrace cleaner-burning fossil fuels like natural gas. Since solar and wind don’t generate enough power, Germany must rely on coal — the dirtiest fossil fuel — to generate 40 percent of its electricity. As a result, Germany is projected to fall short of nearly every national and EU clean energy standard by 2020.

Germany’s experience is par for the course with bureaucratic climate policies. The United States was criticized for not joining our European allies in signing the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, another international plan to reduce emissions. But today the United States is curbing emissions much faster than any country that signed the agreement.

That’s because instead of banning fossil fuels outright, America embraced its natural gas boom. Thanks to a process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” we’ve managed to tap new reserves of natural gas and oil in recent years.

In 2015, the United States surpassed Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s top producer of natural gas. By 2018, energy companies produced over 60 percent more natural gas than they did two decades earlier. This newfound abundance of natural gas has helped our nation transition away from coal, which emits twice as much carbon dioxide.

Thanks to this shift, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have hit 30-year lows — even as global emissions have spiked 50 percent. And since 2005, natural gas has done more to reduce power sector dioxide emissions than all renewable energy sources combined, according to the Energy Information Administration.

While the rest of the world fumbles with green energy policies, the United States continues to reduce emissions. We don’t need regulation to guarantee future success. American firms will continue to combat climate change — as long as we let them.

Drew Johnson is a Senior Fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research