EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

To complement your LinksDossier on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, I would like to draw your attention to the prospects offered by the election of a new US President in November and the advent of a new US administration as of January 20, 2009.

As you will not have failed to notice, the Republican candidate, John McCain, as well as both the Democratic hopefuls, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, have made very clear statements about the need to tackle climate change head on.

In a recent policy paperexternal entitled “Clinton, McCain, Obama – Europe’s Best Hope for Climate Change?” (also available in FrenchPdf external ), I in fact argue that Europe has a unique chance with the three candidates to take international climate negotiations forward. All three have committed to bold emissions reductions targets, to full auctioning of permits, and to broad coverage of a prospective emissions scheme, both in terms of industries and gases.

The climate – no pun intended – in the United States has much improved. Public opinion polls show concern over global warming is on a par with European levels. Business has called for government action, and key positions in Congress are held by advocates of legislative changes.

In fact, Congress is currently examining “America’s Climate Security Act,” introduced by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner on 18 October 2007, which many have heralded for its bipartisan co-sponsorship. Thus legislation is being examined in parallel on both sides of the Atlantic. This, and the presidential campaign, offer a unique but fleeting opportunity for Europe to help shape a future global treaty with the United States by the end of 2009. The challenge, beyond the inherent uncertainty of the election outcome, are the potential dynamics between the US and the EU plans on the one hand, and international negotiations on the other.

Both the EU and the US plans have real weaknesses. In some respects, the US plans are more ambitious than the EU’s, and vice versa. Also, not all is green in DC. The insistence on getting the BRICs and other developing countries to sign up to clear emissions reduction targets may again derail, or at least seriously delay, an international agreement, as it did in 1997.

China demonstrated in Bali in December that it is ready to play a more constructive role. However, transforming these tentative signals into actual endorsement of an international treaty will require great diplomacy. The EU and the US should engage jointly in discussions with all major emitters with an open mind and not talk unwisely or prematurely of “border adjustments” and tariffs on imported goods from countries without carbon pricing.

In a context of economic difficulties, there could thus be a tendency to look on the other side of the Atlantic and find arguments for lowering standards where the other option appears less demanding. The opposite should happen.

European governments, EU policymakers, business, and EU NGOs and think tanks should all follow US developments closely, drawing inspiration on aspects where the United States is ready to go further than the EU, and bolster the resolve in the USA where it appears to flag by sticking to adequate standards.

Stephen Boucher

Co-secretary general

Notre Europe external

Paris

France

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