Moment that mattered: The Paris climate accord is signed
While many people were celebrating the signing of the Paris climate accord – which saw 195 countries pledge to limit the rise of global temperatures to less than 2C above pre-industrial levels and reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2100 – Dr David Evans was unmoved. “There were no decisions or commitments made that seemed very substantial to me,” he says. “It’s a big circus.”
Evans is a climate change sceptic and a key figure in a recently established hedge fund, Cool Futures, which is seeking to bet against global warming. One of the ways hedge funds make money is by buying shorts in companies, which increase in value when the value of the company goes down. “The idea [of Cool Futures] is to short companies that get a lot of their income, or only exist, because of subsidies from government who believe in carbon dioxide theory,” Evans says. “If that theory becomes tarnished over the next few years, a lot of companies – particularly wind turbine companies and renewable companies – will probably cease to exist. If you own shorts in these companies you would probably stand to make a fair bit of money.”
A “fair bit of money” is putting it lightly. The Climate Change Business Journal has asserted that the climate change industry is worth an annual $1.5 trillion. A report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance and Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmentalists from Boston, estimated that implementing the Paris deal would necessitate $12.1 trillion of investment into the renewable energy industry over the next 25 years. “Very little of the renewables industry is viable economically, and about nine tenths of it probably wouldn’t exist without government intervention or subsidies of one kind or another,” Evans says. “You’ve got a whole industry based on a model with a lot of supporting signs, but no actual smoking guns. If it actually cools and the model is proven wrong, the industry may collapse.”
Evans believes that errors in the models used by scientists since 1896 have given us the wrong idea about climate change. “I’m a scientist,” he says. “I used to work for the Australian Greenhouse Office. I worked for years doing carbon modelling. All the time there were some nagging problems because some of the evidence doesn’t work.” Evans claims that the world hasn’t been heating up for the last 15 years and that, if anything, the next five years will see the beginning of a minor global cooling. His theories have been derided in parts of the scientific community – Matt England, who works for the University of New South Wales climate change research centre, told the Guardian that “Evans has a superb track record of dodgy claims and bizarre climate change theories. He has zero credibility in the field.” Credible or not, his ideas found a sympathetic ear in fellow climate change sceptic Chris Dawson, who approached Evans about the hedge fund two years ago.
With Evans’s blessing, Dawson set up a fund based in the Cayman Islands. Evans’s role is to call the market. “I’m giving them advice on how much it’ll cool and in particular when it’s going to cool,” he says. “As usual in markets, timing is everything.” Cool Futures is designed primarily for big investors, but while Dawson claims there are some who have shown a strong interest, the fund hasn’t yet completed the regulatory process necessary for them to invest. So far, the fund has brought in slightly over $30,000 in donations from a crowdfunding campaign set up for individuals who want to get involved.
“You’ve got an industry based on a model with a lot of supporting signs, but no smoking guns”
Evans admits that Cool Futures is probably spurred on by political motivations as much as financial ones. Dawson himself is a long-time climate change sceptic. “He’s a political person – his knowledge of climate change is superficial. Most of the people who’ve contributed money feel that something’s wrong. They can see that the evidence doesn’t match up to the theory and for whatever reason, they’ve decided to plunk down their money,” he says. “It wasn’t intended as a vehicle for promoting my research, but that’s how it’s working out.”
For Evans, events like COP21 are all about the politics too. “It’s a big political get-together and everyone gets to know each other and scratch each other’s back.” And, three months down the line, the climate sceptic’s view on the conference’s merits remains unchanged: “It’s made no difference. It’s just business as usual. The ship didn’t change course.”
After the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen failed to produce a deal, COP21 was viewed as a resounding victory by world leaders. UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon called it “a monumental triumph”, while US president Barack Obama said it could be “a turning point for the world”. Still, a lot will depend on the signatory states’ willingness implement the non-binding clauses of the deal. Countries are free to determine their own emissions targets for example. “They aren’t committing to do very much,” Evans says. “And that’s not unreasonable in light of the fact that temperatures really haven’t gone up much. It’s kind of, well, ‘We’ll come back next year and think about it again’.”
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