Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, senior director for policy programmes at the German Marshall Fund in Washington, DC:
Obama is responding to dramatic changes in popular attitudes in the US, particularly with regard to climate change. He will put America on a new trajectory in climate policies.
This doesn't mean that America will outgreen the EU in the short term, because the US has fallen far behind in its entire legislative apparatus that deals with energy efficiency and the carbon economy.
However, it should be remembered that the instruments the EU is suggesting are American, from an era when Americans were the innovators in this field, so the EU toolkit should not be alien to the US.
There are two potential scenarios before Copenhagen:
One is a virtuous cycle whereby, having dealt with the bail-out package and the stimulus bill, Obama could give a presidential address on climate change in the spring, which would then lead to legislation being table on the Hill [US Houses of Congress].
A roadmap for American climate change policy could then be presented at Copenhagen, outlining the range of action that America is willing to commit to.
Copenhagen, in turn, would reinforce the legislative process in the US and see strong legislation in place by the spring of 2010.
The second scenario is a vicious cycle, which would look something like this: the economic crisis takes precedence over everything else, and bail-out packages become an all-consuming effort for Congress.
This, in turn, diminishes the willingness of lawmakers to engage on climate change issues, and as a result both Obama’s presidential address and the proposals by congress would be weak.
Copenhagen would fail, Americans would be blamed for the failure, and this would trigger a backlash against the process among the international community.
The attitude of European leaders will also play a part. The fact is: even if Obama achieves his stated goals – to reduce US carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 – this will be far less ambitious than the EU’s goals (see EurActiv 19/01/08).
The EU can either look at this charitably, and support the American efforts to achieve a change of course - which are akin to turning a supertanker around 180 degrees - or EU leaders could say "we committed to something, America should do the same" and unrealistically expect them to pull even with Europe.
The change of attitude in the US is profound. It is in the interests of all to find agreement in Copenhagen, and responsible politicians will take the necessary steps to reinforce the virtuous cycle.
Avril Doyle, Irish MEP and European Parliament rapporteur on the EU's Emissions Trading Scheme (see EurActiv 08/10/08 ):
We Europeans have been leading the global debate on carbon dioxide emissions for the last eight years, because effectively, George W. Bush dropped the ball completely on this issue when he came to power in his first term.
However, prior to him coming in, the US was very active in this area, and in fact the original cap-and-trade system in relation to sulphur dioxide is a US creation, and they were the global leaders.
Now, I expect the Americans to pick up fairly quickly where they left off eight years ago, but Mr. Obama needs to be aware that there's a different political climate and new priorities now. He will also have to get the requisite majorities in the US Houses of Congress at different stages of his green policy formulation, which could potentially prove difficult.
But yes, in terms of his administration's willingness, I expect the US to move quickly, though nothing is done and dusted. It still has to pass through the various Congressional and Senate committees.
I'd be very disappointed if we didn't have a very clear idea of where the US is heading and a legislative programme to put on the table by the time Copenhagen comes around.
Monica Frassoni, Italian MEP and co-president of the Greens in the European Parliament:
It will depend on what the EU does, but he has the potential to do so and I hope he will be as ambitious as outlined in his electoral campaign, because it will also push our sceptics in Europe to move faster.
I think the political climate is right for him to push through these kinds of changes, but I'm also aware of the extreme strength of opposing forces in the USA, and I don't know how much he will resist.
But on paper he has all the potential to outgreen Europe, and it's something I would welcome.
It would be a shame for the EU to lose it current position of global leadership on the issue, but I would prefer someone else to be moving faster than keeping everyone moving slowly.
In the run-up to Copenhagen, a lot will depend on the attitude of the Americans. If the Americans are decided, it will push even the more sceptical elements in Europe to go their way.
And let's not forget: without the EU doing what it did last year – no matter how slow we were and no matter how long it took - we wouldn't be anywhere, and this has been very useful for Barack Obama.
Fred Kempe, president of leading foreign policy think tank the Atlantic Council, told EurActiv in an interview :
I have no doubt the US will outgreen Europe by creating not only the technology, but the incentives and the capital markets that will push forward more quickly than Europe a far-reaching green economy.
Esther Bollendorff, climate and energy expert at Friends of Earth Europe:
Even though Barack Obama will bring political change in terms of environmental policy, I don't believe that he will be able to change Americans and their lifestyles, at least not during this mandate.
The American mentality is strongly consumption-orientated and people believe that natural resources, water for example, are unlimited and can be used with no restrictions. The general environmental consciousness with ordinary people is not as developed as it is in Europe and this will be the main obstacle.
However, if Obama manages to bring a change in this area (which would mean that people do not drive their 4x4s anymore, public transport is far better developed, and heating is far less exaggerated) and if European policies, especially climate policies, were implemented at the lowest level, then Obama could lift up American climate policy to the standard of European climate policy.
John Bruton, EU Ambassador to the USA:
I hope Obama aims to outgreen Europe, and if he does, we'd be happy to see an EU-US competition in that direction.
I think, however, that it's going to be quite a difficult task. Unlike Europe, the US has huge resources of coal, their reserves are enormous, and we haven't yet developed a technology for using coal that doesn't involve very substantial emissions of CO2.
The reason this will prove difficult for Obama is that cap-and-trade policies will fall more heavily on a coal-based economy than a gas or oil-based economy.
I think the political will is there in the US to create a strong green agenda, but I'm not yet convinced that the popular will is, and getting popular support for strong green policies is going to be difficult given the current state of the US economy.