The most recent United Nations climate report, this one from the Human Rights Council, is titled “Climate Change and Poverty” and asserts that “climate change will have devastating consequences for people in poverty.” Add just one more word and the UN would actually be onto something, since climate change policies, if widely adopted, would severely hurt the poor around the globe.
Most of the report reads like an updated Book of Revelations, sketching out a world where those least fortunate are increasingly and disproportionately suffering from hunger, disease, drought, floods, heat waves, homelessness, and more. But there is scant evidence of any alarming trends affecting the human condition and indeed quite a few positive trends. And it is getting harder to take these dire UN climate doomsday predictions seriously, as the organization has been incorrectly making them for thirty years.
As bad as the UN is at characterizing the problem, it is far worse when it comes to the solution. For the UN, there is only one kind of response to its self-described human rights crisis—top down, heavy-handed central planning of each nation’s energy use, especially as embodied in the Paris climate treaty.
The authors fear that climate change “risks undoing the last fifty years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction.” However, much of this progress can be traced to a wider embrace of free markets, limited government, and property rights. Even the highly-imperfect adoption of these principles, as we see in China and Russia, has been a huge improvement over what they replaced. In this context, the Paris climate treaty would take us backwards, not forwards.
In particular, it has been the freedom to develop and use the most affordable sources of energy—usually the fossil fuels are now targeted by UN-endorsed climate measures—that has allowed for economic development and improvements in the human condition. Plentiful food, better shelter, modern transportation, and improved health care all depend on reliable and affordable energy. It is what has raised living standards and made the climate more safe, not less.
The UN Human Rights Council has repeatedly been criticized for including among its member nations some of the planet’s worst human rights abusers. Its attempt to link UN climate advocacy with human rights is no less deserving of ridicule. The only thing it will accomplish for the world’s poor is give them a lot more company.