From The Economist:

“RICH countries should compensate Africa for all their belching chimneys and exhausts. In a rare fit of African unity, it was decided at a recent flurry of leaders’ meetings that the United States, the European Union, Japan and others should pay the continent the tidy sum of $67 billion a year, though it was unclear for how long. Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, is likely to lead a delegation of 53 countries (all of Africa minus Morocco) to the climate-change summit in Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, in December, where he will presumably lodge this demand.

Would the money come, if it came at all, with strings attached or as reparations for damage to Africa’s atmosphere? Mr Meles has made it clear he is seeking blood money—or rather carbon money—that would be quite separate from other aid to the continent. If the cash were not forthcoming, the African Union (AU) might take a case to a court of arbitration and ask it to judge overall culpability for climate change.

The AU says it would not administer the carbon cash directly. National governments would get it. But it is unclear how it would be allocated. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says Africa will be the continent worst hit by higher temperatures. But some bits of Africa may deteriorate more, whereas others may benefit from greater rainfall.”

The earth’s average temperature has been warming over the past few decades, and many point to this as evidence of harmful, human-induced warming. While it is possible that the consequences of global warming resulting from human activity may one day become serious, the science and predicted outcomes remain hotly debated, and the proposed solutions raise problems of their own.

Temperatures have risen and fallen many times in the past without the relatively recent increase in greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity in the developed world, which is the basis for the AU’s demands for compensation. The case for significant short-term consequences is weak. As Heritage analysts Brett Schaefer and Ben Lieberman write, “The planet and its inhabitants are much more resilient to temperature variability than had been previously assumed, and the warming over the last few decades has not been particularly harmful to humans or the environment. Indeed, the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures over this period has been accompanied by declining damages from natural disasters, not the opposite. In sum, the more alarming predictions—dramatic sea level rises, increased storms, wider spread of malaria, etc.—are not extrapolations of current trends, but radical departures from them.”

The long-term effect of global warming may indeed prove significant, but the efforts under way to combat global warming would not address them effectively. For instance, even if Kyoto Protocol had been perfectly adhered to it would have averted an inconsequential 0.07 degree Celsius temperature increase by 2050. The primary flaw is the failure to include major developing country emitters and loopholes for some covered countries. It would, however, have significant economic consequences, costing the U.S. as much as $400 billion annually.

Current discussions planned for Copenhagen do not address these fundamental problems. In other words, the U.N. approach to global warming leads to great economic pain with almost no environmental gain.

There are good reasons for this. As environmental expert Christopher Horner points out in the newly released Heritage book Conundrum: The Limits of the United Nations and the Search for Alternatives, “International discourse on environmental issues is often at cross-purposes with the practicalities of resolving them. The obsessive drive to address international environmental problems—real, imagined, or exaggerated—solely through the U.N. lessens the effectiveness of proposed responses. It enables indirectly involved parties to hold discussions and proposals hostage to tangential issues, such as wealth transfers to developing countries.”

Indeed, the purpose of the AU is not to address global warming, but simply to secure financial transfers. This should raise concerns as the record of such transfers is poor as demonstrated by the “more than $3 trillion in development assistance (constant 2007 dollars) provided by donor countries since 1960 to developing countries–of which over a quarter, or $879 billion, went to sub-Saharan African countries–with scant evidence of development results unequivocally attributable to aid.”

If it wants to develop, the AU is shooting itself in the foot with its demand for global warming compensation. Private financial flows dwarf foreign assistance from governments, accounting for “91 percent of America’s total economic engagement with developing countries.” As a quid pro quo for the compensation, the AU would have to support a global warming agreement that would cap CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, Europe, and Japan. This will reduce economic growth and hamper private international investment and transfer of clean technologies. Instead, the AU should focus on opening up global markets to trade and removing policies the retard economic growth and completion. This would strengthen their economies, enrich their citizens and give them the resources to meet the consequences of global warming head on.

Brett Schaefer contributed to this post.